You can challenge a legacy if you originally did not want to accept it, but your behavior was interpreted as an assumption. Contestation is also possible if you have inherited the heritage of your own accord but have not had full knowledge of its characteristics. roytmaninstitute.org for further explanation
Why should one challenge a heritage?
Mostly an over-indebted estate is a reason to challenge a heritage. If you realize before that you would inherit debts, you can turn down the inheritance. In practice, however, this is not always apparent, as in the current case: A Cologne woman died and left husband, brother and sister as legal heirs. The sister stole the inheritance, the brother let the deadline expire. After all, he knew that the testator had received a compensation of 100,000 euros, and a few months earlier had seen a bank statement with a credit of about 60,000 euros. However, the severance pay was no longer found – even the husband did not comment on it. Instead, the brother should now settle a hospital bill of the deceased sister. Instead of inheriting debts, he wanted to challenge the legacy.
When can you challenge a legacy?
Since the man had legitimately assumed a valuable estate, but in truth would inherit debts, according to § 119 German Civil Code (BGB) there is a mistake about the essential characteristics of the estate. Such an error entitles one to challenge the inheritance. This confirmed in the current case, the 2nd Civil Senate of the Higher Regional Court of Cologne (AZ Wx 109/17). Not only if you inherit debts, you can challenge the inheritance, but also if you were forced under threat to accept the inheritance (§ 123 BGB) or if your behavior has erroneously been interpreted as an assumption.
Deadlines and formalities
The deadlines for challenging an assumed heir are the same as those for accepting or repudiating the inheritance: six weeks or six months, if the heir of the deceased was abroad at the beginning of the period (§ 1954 BGB). The period starts from the moment the heir becomes aware that he can challenge the inheritance – that is when you learn that the estate is over-indebted. That may well be several years later. After 30 years, however, the time limit becomes statute-barred and a challenge to the legacy is no longer possible if unexpected debts still appear in the estate. Also important is the form: The challenge must be in writing, signed and notarized by the probate court.