Recognition of marriage, inheritance contracts and wills abroad

Is my marriage contract even effective abroad? Is a foreign will valid?

Marriages and families are becoming more and more international these days. It is now taken for granted that marriages are contracted between partners of different nationalities and that people move abroad for professional or personal reasons. However, the question arises whether and to what extent contracts concluded in Germany are recognized abroad. Reciprocally, the question often arises as to how contracts concluded abroad are recognized Germany.

As of 29 January 2019, matrimonial property law was unified in the EU. For 18 EU states, the regulations 2016/1103 and 2016/1104 determine which rules are to be used to decide which law is applicable to the spouses’ matrimonial property relationships. It is therefore quite possible that spouses divorce under foreign law and invoke a marriage contract concluded in Germany.

German wills are recognized abroad as long as they do not violate their legal system. In case of doubt, some clauses are invalid.
Since both Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland guarantee the compulsory portion, the wills are generally mutually recognized. However, provisions that violate mandatory law will not apply.

If a notarial will is invalid under foreign law, it can still be recognized as an international will, provided that the provisions regarding international wills are complied with.

In certain cases, an official document that was drawn up in one country and is to be used in legal transactions in another must be provided with an apostille in order to obtain legal force abroad.
German notarial deeds are exempt from apostille and legalization in four countries due to bilateral agreements: Denmark, France, Italy and Austria. In the other EU member states and, for example, in Israel, Russia, Turkey and the USA, the apostille is required as simplified proof of authenticity.
For countries that are not party to the Hague Apostille Convention, such as Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, legalization is required as an enhanced proof of authenticity. This is done by the intermediate certification of the document by the president of the regional court and the double certification by the competent embassy of the recipient country in Germany.
For certain countries, such as China, a final authentication by the Federal Administrative Court is required.

Check your contracts!

For people settling abroad, it is important to check the contracts for their validity and their applicability. In divorce and inheritance cases, expats often realize too late that certain clauses may not have any effect abroad.
If you move abroad for professional or personal reasons, it is highly recommended to have the concluded contracts checked for their content and validity abroad. Our internationally oriented team will be happy to do this for you.


Katharina Kutter

As an attorney for family and inheritance law and have specialised in advising companies and high net worth individuals in the areas of asset succession, asset division, tax law and family law retirement planning – with a particular focus on cross-border matters. 

Share this article

Legal advice needed?

Schedule a first meeting!

We are happy to be of service and advise you online or in person at our offices in Constance and Zurich.

Also worth knowing

More legal tips

Termin vereinbaren

Buchungstool lädt nicht? Klicken Sie hier.

Book an appointment

Booking tool not loading? Click here .