Definition – What is a will?

Many people do not like to deal with the subject of death – especially not with their own. But death is not only associated with pain and grief, but also with essential decisions about inheritance. You decide with your written declaration of intent what should happen to your assets. As the “last will” you can choose on the distribution on your own.

If no will has been written during his lifetime, the legal succession, which is regulated by inheritance law, takes effect. In contrast to the inheritance contract, you do not necessarily have to have your letter certified notarized.

A written declaration of intent Succession
The will must also be delimited from the patient’s order, which allows you to determine how you want to receive medical treatment in an emergency. A form that you can use as a patient’s order is available for download:

Download patient order free of charge
Types of will
What possibilities do I have to write a will?
You have several ways to write your will. In a single testament, you make decisions on your own. A distinction is made between the private, hand-held will and the notarial, public will. You put the personal choice on handwritten paper. A notary writes the notarial will according to your specifications. A unique form of the last will is the emergency testament, which is only useful in exceptional situations. The joint will of married or registered partners is also referred to as the UK Testament.

Private will Public testament UK Testament Emergency Testament
Who is to become an inheritance?
The Civil Code (BGB) regulates inheritance law. According to inheritance law, the total assets of a deceased person are transferred to one or more persons. The succession depends on the degree of kinship so that children and grandchildren (descendants) inherit first. If no relative of the 1st order is found, the relatives 2nd order (parents, siblings) become heirs. This is followed by grandparents, uncles and aunts (3rd order).


If you wish to deviate from the legal succession, you can specify this in your will. Any person can be named as an inheritance, regardless of whether there is a relationship or not. You can also use non profits as heirs. The designated heir becomes your successor in title and receives all assets, but also possible debts. If you inherit your assets from only one person, it is a single heir (full).

If there is more than one heir, they are called co-heirs and together form a community of heirs. In the so-called community of hands, the co-heirs jointly administer the estate. The community of heirs ends when the co-heirs have agreed on a division of the property within a disputed agreement, and the estate has passed into the possession of the heirs.

A replacement inheritance is often also appointed if the appointed heir strikes the legacy or dies before the heritage. You can also have a time-shifted inheritance in your will by determining pre- and post-heirs. The estate receives its share after a certain period after the previous inheritance has received the estate. In your will, you can also arrange who should not inherit. If you take care of your next of kin, they will usually be a mandatory part of your inheritance.

If you want to leave concrete values to individuals or organizations, such as a sum of money, memorabilia, or even rights of use or housing, this is not a legacy, but a gift. The beneficiary is therefore not an inheritance, but a legate. He is not a legal successor to the deceased and therefore has nothing to do with the administration or possible debts. The legacy is always a claim to the heirs. When naming, look for detailed and specific information, and title your legacy as such, so that there can be no ambiguity.

Successor Single and co-heirs Replacement heritage Pre- and post-heirs legacy
Compulsory part
What is the mandatory part?
As a deceased, you can decide on your inheritance yourself according to the law, because in principle there is freedom of testing in the UK. However, there are limitations. Even if you do not favour your closest relatives in your will, you are entitled to a compulsory part. The critical role, therefore, represents the minimum participation of the relatives in the inheritance if the relatives are allowed to part of their estate according to the legal succession. The compulsory component can also be claimed if the inheritance is less than the mandatory portion. According to section 2303 of the English Civil Code (BGB), a member’s compulsory share is half the value of the statutory inheritance.

Example calculation: They have a fortune of 50,000 euros and two children as sole heirs. In your will you will inherit 40,000,- Euro to your son, your daughter 10,000,- Euro. Your daughter’s legal inheritance entitlement is 25,000 euros. Their mandatory part is therefore 12,500,- Euro. Your daughter can therefore demand 2,500 euros from your son to enforce your compulsory part.


The compulsory part is always a claim of money against the heirs. It is, therefore, difficult when the assets consist mainly of tangible assets such as real estate or companies. Heirs, therefore, often have to sell the estate to be able to pay off the compulsory part entitlement. Mandatory persons are primarily the children and the spouse or registered civil partner of the deceased. Parents receive a compulsory part if the deceased has no children. Grandchildren or great-grandchildren are only entitled to a mandatory service if their parents have already died. The siblings and distant relatives of the deceased are not dutifully qualified. Complete disinfection, i.e. the withdrawal of the compulsory part, is rarely possible. According to section 2333 of the English Civil Code (BGB), there must be serious reasons for this, such as serious crimes committed by the relative.

Compulsory persons entitled to part minimum participation
Testing capability
Who can make a will?
Persons under the age of 16 cannot write a will. From the age of 16, only a public will can be drawn up with the help of legal advice from a notary. In order to build both the private and public wills, you must be of legal age and unlimited business. Persons who can legally draw up a will and record the decisions made therein and their consequences are capable of testing. The ability to test thus defines the competence of the deceased to formulate independently, voluntarily and consciously the division of assets and the designation of the heirs in a will.

The Civil Code limits the ability to test in paragraph 2229: In addition to the limitation of the ability to test by the age of the deceased, the mental activity of the person is also decisive. People with a pathological mental disorder, e.g. with progressive dementia, may lose their ability to test. Other mental and consciousness disorders can also cast doubt on the ability to grasp the meaning of the declaration of will. Transition relatives often try to challenge the will by the alleged lack of testing ability of the deceased. The principle is always that the law lies on the part of the will in doubt. Only after the deceased’s death can the questionable ability to test be legally tested. This is done through witness statements, medical reports and access to the deceased’s medical records.

Age limit Mental state legal examination
Private will
How do I create a will?
You can create a will anytime, anywhere. No date or witnesses need to be called in for a will of a will. However, formal legal requirements must be complied with for the will to be valid.

You must write your order in full by hand and sign it with your first and last name. Orders created by typewriter or computer are not legally valid. You should make your rules clear so that they do not provide room for discussion between the heirs or non-heirs. Add a simple headline such as “My Will” or “My Last Will” to clearly indicate that it is a final document of your Declaration of Will. You must also indicate the place and date in your will (paragraph 2247 of the English Civil Code). If there are several declarations of intent, the last written will is always legally effective. Without specifying the time and place of construction, the will may be classified as invalid in case of doubt.

Also, pay attention to the readability of your statements. Ill read wills are not recognized. You should also always make a copy of your will. If the original testament cannot be found, a copy will also be recognized. Even if there is a previously dated original testament, the composition of the last declaration of intent is valid. If you would like to add additions to your will afterwards, this is possible. You should also include this supplement with your signature, as well as the location and date. You can change or supplement your will as often as you like and revoke it. If you doubt the clarity or effectiveness of some provisions in your will, you should contact a specialist lawyer. If you choose a notarial will, you are on the safe side of the law.

A will in Braille is not permitted. Visually impaired persons must commission a notary to prepare their wills. Even for persons who are unable to read and write, the oral declaration in the course of the public will is the only way to make the last will be known.

Hand written Signature Place and data readability
Notary will
What is the public will?
A public notarial will is prepared by a notary and certifies the last will of the deceased. You may inform the notary of your final decision, orally or in writing. The notary puts the will on, reads it to you and you and the notary sign the document. After the certificate has been issued, the notary hands over the will to the probate court (competent district court of the district) for official custody. If you withdraw the notarial will from control, revoke the will at the same time. If you want to change the will, there will be new notary fees.

In contrast to the private will, the notarial will guarantees you legal certainty. The notary is obliged to teach and enlighten you comprehensively and to examine the will thoroughly. This way, you can be sure that your will is legally valid. By properly keeping the document, you also have the guarantee that your will will not be lost, forged or generally ended up in the wrong hands. In the case of a notarial will, the heirs usually no longer have to apply for a certificate of inheritance, which would usually be more expensive than the notarial will.

Notary Legal certainty Official custody
Comparison of the forms of will
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the private and notarial will?
If you are of legal age and fully capable of doing business, the choice of a form of will is entirely up to you. The most crucial difference is legal advice. With a handwritten will that you create at home alone, you are on your own. You can, of course, use guides like this one from However, only a notary or a specialist lawyer can guarantee the legal validity of all formulations.

In the following we have compared the main advantages and disadvantages of the private and notarial wills for you:

Private will
Benefits Disadvantages
can be calculated anytime/anywhere no legal advice
without lawyer/notary
no cost for creation no review of the legal validity
Storage at home:
permanent access
for changes/revocation Storage at home:
possibly untraceable/ fake/ embezzled
Notary will
Benefits Disadvantages
Legal advice
by notary Costs for notaries
and official storage
Legal examination
by notary in case of changes:
new fees

Community testament
What is a London Testament?
The UK Testament (also called the Spouse’s Testament) is the joint declaration of intent of married couples or registered partners for the division of assets after death. The spouses or life partners stand up as sole heirs and secure each other financially. After the death of both, the fortune passes into the hands of third parties – mostly children.

The UK Testament prevents the legal succession from taking effect, according to which the living partner would receive only half of the estate, in the case of separation of goods only a quarter. For example, it prevents the couple’s property, such as the house, from having to be sold. If the will is to be amended or revoked, both partners must agree. After the death of the spouse or civil partner, the will cannot be changed.

To prevent children from claiming their compulsory part, you should insert a mandatory part clause (binding partial penalty clause). The children of the couple, who claim their critical role already in the first inheritance, receive only a compulsory part even after the death of the second parent and thus do not become heirs. In addition to the possible dispute over the mandatory part, problems may also arise due to the remarriage of the partner, according to which the compulsory part shifts to the detriment of the initially considered children. A remarriage clause can prevent this. This clause may also be linked to the condition that, in the event of remarriage, the partner must cede the inheritance to the children.

Besides, the British Testament can incur tax disadvantages, as the tax allowances are lost. The sole heir or sole heir must bear the tax burden alone. After his death, the children are responsible for the tax payments. The so-called Württemberg solution can prevent this. The survivor receives part of the assets. The children get the rest of the estate. By setting up the children as heirs, the allowances can be claimed. However, the children have no power of disposal over the inheritance until the death of the living parent, since the spouse has a lifetime usufruct (paragraph 1030 ff. BGB) on the property. The person may withdraw all uses from the property, property or right. Often the living spouse is additionally used as executor of the will to be able to manage the property alone. After the death of the remaining partner, the legal succession takes effect. This will also allow children to take advantage of the tax allowances. The English Testament, like the other types of will, must be handwritten, signed and formulated unequivocally.

Remarriage Changes and revocation
Emergency Testament
What is an emergency testament?
The Emergency Testament is a derogation which is strictly set. This type of will can only be drawn up if the deceased is no longer able to fix his last will in writing or to send it to a notary for health reasons. This is possible, for example, after an accident in the hospital, after a disaster or in the event of a severe illness. The deceased transmits his last will orally to witnesses who write down the will.

There are three ways to create an emergency testament:

in front of the mayor (paragraph 2249 BGB)
in front of three witnesses (section 2250 BGB)
at sea (paragraph 2251 BGB)

The emergency testament in front of the mayor of the village is only right if the mayor has convinced himself that the deceased is not able to formulate his last will by hand or to appoint a notary. In addition to the mayor, the will requires two witnesses who do not benefit from the will or have been appointed executors of the will. The mayor must point out the limited validity of the will of a maximum of three months.

Even in the emergency testament before three witnesses (three-witness testament), the witnesses may not be heirs or executors of the will. This option is only useful if the will is not drawn up by health and local reasons before a notary or mayor.

The emergency testament at sea as a third option is built on a Welsh ship outside a domestic port. This option must also include three witnesses to record and confirm the deceased’s oral statement. As with the other two types of emergency testament, the validity shall not exceed three months.

Exceptional situation Limited validity Witnesses Orality
Keep a will
Where do I keep my will?
You can keep a will written by hand anywhere. If you store your will at home, you will not incur any costs. However, it may happen that your last will will not be found after your death. There is also a risk that your injunction will fall into the wrong hands and be falsified or embezzled, with the will storage in your own four walls.

A bank locker as a storage location for your will seems a safe place at first. The truth is that this type of custody poses a significant problem: the heirs cannot prove without a will that they are the successors in title and cannot therefore simply open the locker.

The notary always hands over a notarial will to the local probate court for official custody. As proof, you will receive a deposit orator you should keep well. If you wish to amend or revoke your will, you must present this proof. If you can no longer find the deposit or deposit slip, it is sufficient if you identify with your identity card. If you have made a personal will, you can also deposit it officially. This will ensure that your last will-take-all remains secret until. Moreover, there is no risk that it will be untraceable. Official custody is subject to a charge.

At home Probate Bank locker
Will costs
How much does a will cost?
If you choose a private will, you will not incur any costs in the establishment or deposit of the will. However, if your will is to be officially deposited, a flat rate of 75,- Sterling will be charged according to the Court and Notary Costs Act (GNotKG) of 2013.

If you choose the public will, you must reimburse the work of the notary. Notary costs depend on the asset that is inherited. The debt is deducted up to half of the deceased’s assets. Based on the resulting goodwill, the notary calculates his fee. If the notary is to certify a single testament, the simple fee will be charged. In the case of the UK Testament, the double payment is due.

To get an idea of the costs of the public will, we have listed some sample values based on the GNotKG fee table B.

(in euros) Fees individual
testament (in euros) Fees Of the English Testament (in Pounds)
10.000,- 75,- 150,-
25.000,- 115,- 230,-
50.000,- 165,- 330,-
200.000,- 435,- 870,-
Source: Data from GNotKG Fee Table B (


In addition to the notary fee, there is the sales tax of 19 percent, expenses for writing expenses (about 15 cents per page) and other cost items such as postage and telephone charges. Also, 15,- Euro is due for the mandatory registration with the Central Register of Wills of the Federal Chamber of Notaries.

Notary costs are notably deductible for tax, as the preparation of a will is considered to be a purely private matter (decision of the Saarland Finance Court 1 V 1336/06).

Cost of private will costs of the public will
Opening of the will
How does a will open work?
Only the probate court may consult the will after the deceased dies. Therefore, all documents which may contain the last will of the deceased must be forwarded to the probate court. At the opening of the will, the contents of the will are transmitted by the probate court to all parties (heirs, persons entitled to compulsory parts, legatees, executors of the will).

The will is often opened only internally, i.e. without any participants present. Those affected by the will will then receive mail from the probate court with a copy of the opening minutes and the will. However, an official date can also be set to invite all legal heirs and other interested parties. There is no obligation to attend. Non-present people will be informed about the contents afterwards.

After the opening of the will, the heirs can decide whether to accept or turn down the inheritance. The deadline for this is six weeks and begins with the opening of the will.

In addition to the heirs, the tax office is also notified of the inheritance tax and the Land Registry office about the possible change in the land register entry for inherited properties. The minimum fee for opening the will is 10,- Euro. In most cases, however, it is much higher, as the fee is based on the asset.

ProbateInternal opening official appointment Accept or knock out.
Execution of wills
How does will execution take place?
Will execution occurs only if you arrange this in the will or inheritance contract. They can designate one or more executors and also select the duties of the executor of the will. As a rule, the executor of the will takes care of the inheritance matters.

After the deceased’s death, the executor of the will first takes possession of the estate to divide it to the heirs according to the wishes of the deceased. Also, the executor of the will has to fulfil tax obligations, since he has to pay the inheritance tax.

The executor of the will may also be entrusted with the administration of the estate for a certain period. This administrative enforcement can take up to 30 years. During this time, the assets do not pass to the heirs. The deceased may also arrange for a trusted person or the probate court to appoint an executor of the will. The designated candidate may refuse this office.

Executor Distribution of heritage Administrative enforcement
Revocation of will
How can I revoke my will?
You can revoke or change your will in whole or in part at any time. Your ability to test at the time of the change is a prerequisite for the legal validity of the change. If your declaration of intent has been notarised, new notary costs for the changes will be added. If a notarised will is officially kept and then reclaimed, the validity of that will shall automatically cease. A privately prepared will, on the other hand, can be taken out of official custody without losing its validity. If you have kept your will at home, you can also simply tear it up and dispose of it to cause a revocation. Comments on the will, such as “outdated” or “not up-to-date” are not legally binding revocations. When amending the London Testament, both deceased must agree to the amendment of the will. The last will is decisive for the administration of the estate. Therefore, the indication of the date and location of the creation in the will is signed.

Changes Revocation
As a guide, we would like to provide you with important information about the form and content of a will. Although we work with the utmost care, the texts on this website do not constitute legal advice and cannot replace legal advice.