Statutory heir / Gesetzlicher Erbe 3

To sum up: in German law, there are Erben whether a person made a will or not. (Gesetzliche Erbfolgegewillkürte Erbfolge) So sometimes the term gesetzlicher Erbe needs to be translated. What do you do, when it really matters?

Strictly speaking, statutory heir or heir on intestacy is almost too much of a good thing, since in common-law systems the word heir implies that there was no will.

I had to translate this and asked a number of other legal translators which they liked. The most popular answer was ‘I don’t know much about inheritance law’.

I wanted to use the term intestacy, but I’m told statutory heir is normal usage in the USA. I did eventually get a lot of information from one US legal translator, who shall be nameless unless he would prefer to be outed. He suggested Google searches on
“statutory heirs” “uniform probate code”
Other ways of getting US sites are site:edu and site:us

I have to repeat that the word heirs is not used in English law at all. Hence comparing results for heirs on intestacy might be misleading. I also reject the suggestion of intestate heir, because it sounds to me as if the heir has neglected to make a will, which may or may not be true. But this term too is encountered on US sites. Heir on intestacy is comprehensible in the US, but sounds a bit odd, according to my informant (but I regard it as an advantage if a translation relating to German law sounds a bit un-American – I wouldn’t want people to think it referred to American law).

Finally, I looked at Tony Weir’s translation in German Private and Commercial Law. An Introduction, by Horn, Kötz and Leser – 1982 but still the best. It has a heading Statutory Intestate Succession! Michael Jewell’s translation of Gerhard Robbers, An Introduction to German Law, refers to beneficiaries on intestacy, and when it comes to distinguishing Erbe and Vermächtnisnehmer, it has residuary beneficiary and specific beneficiary.

20 thoughts on “Statutory heir / Gesetzlicher Erbe 3

  1. Your arguments are supported by Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd Pocket Edition; ISBN 0-314-25791-8) under “natural heir[:] An heir by consanguinity as distinguished from a collateral heir, an heir by adoption, or a statutory heir (such as a person’s spouse).” There is probably more information in the big one, but it is in my office at the university. :-(

    Interestingly enough, the Uniform Probate Code (or at least Montana’s version) doesn’t contain the words “statutory heirs”. It only mentions “heirs” in connection with intestate succession. As you already noted, however, there seems to be some degree of overlap – pursuant to Section 72-1-103(11) of the Uniform Probate Code, for example, “devise” is defined as “a testamentary disposition of real or personal property” (see ).

    The following site also looks good:

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your series on this subject; it has been very informative. Thank you. :-)

  2. Thanks.
    I have the large Black’s here.
    The “uniform probate code” was just one tactic to get a maximum of genuine USA sites. If the term is not in the Code, all the better, since I don’t really want the Code (am puzzling, in other moments, on why Dubbers thinks American Criminal Law can be introduced to Germans via the Model Penal Code – do you have an opinion? but I will probably come back to this at another time).

    Interesting that spouse is given as an example of statutory heir. This conveys quite the wrong idea for the German gesetzlich, i.e. the opposite to testamentary).

  3. Re residuary beneficiary for Erbe – even if more than one ? – I’ve tried today, coincidentally, to translate from a German probate letter out of Rostock: Ansprüche nach dem … Gesetz der Frau xxx nebst weiteren unbekannten Erben in Erbengemeinschaft zuzusprechen wären.

    How would others deal with ‘in Erbengemeinschaft’ in this context? I’m not going to reveal how I did – yet.

  4. Yes, I’m not keen on residuary beneficiary. In addition to any other objections, the residue doesn’t have to be the largest part. But I thought it was a good illustration of legal translation at work: you know something about the law in both languages and you adapt your strategy to the situation. Some people would like one term to put in their database and get their oompa loompas to use in every situation.

    When I had to distinguish Erbe and Vermächtnisnehmer for a German will sent to Hong Kong, I included the German term and an explanation in footnotes.

    I must say for Erbengemeinschaft I have just used community of heirs. You must have something more exciting.

  5. How about “held in joint title”?

    Creifelds (13th edition, ISBN 3-406-40130-9) has this to say about “Erbengemeinschaft[:] 1. Hinterläßt der Erblasser mehrere Erben (Miterben, ->Erbfolge), so wird bis zur Auseinandersetzung (s. u. 2) der Nachlaß gemeinschaftliches Vermögen der Erben (§ 2032ff. BGB). Die E. ist eine ->Gesamthandsgemeinschaft.”, which is pretty much the same as what is written in the act itself.

    Creifelds has this to say about “Gesamthandsgemeinschaft[: …] Das Wesen der G. besteht darin, daß Rechte und Verbindlichkeiten den Gesamthändern in dieser Eigenschaft jeweils in vollem Umfang zustehen; eine eigene ->Rechtsfähigkeit hat die G. dagegen nicht.”

    Without knowing more about the context, I would say that the words “in Erbengemeinschaft” are describing the relationship between this “Frau xxx” and the other “Erben”, who – if I’ve been paying attention – would be called “beneficiaries” in England and are as of yet unknown in this case. Based on the wording of the sentence I would say that the woman would then also have to be called a “beneficiary”. Not that it matters here because it is her name that appears, but I’m just wondering why you chose the words “residuary beneficiary” in your heading.

    Anyway, something (here a right) held “in Gesamthandsgemeinschaft” is held “in joint ownership” or “in joint title”. The latter would probably work better with rights.

    Looking forward to what you came up with. :-)

  6. Sitting on the fence for the time being:
    1) ‘residuary beneficiary’ was a reference to my quote from Jewell’s translation of the Robbers book – that’s what he uses there

    2) I wouldn’t feel obliged to use ‘beneficiary’ just because it’s the standard English term – maybe AMM would…

  7. in Erbengemeinschaft: I plumped in the end for ‘in association with the group of other persons entitled’. I agree with Derek – the whole point is Frau xxx’s relationship with the rest of the ‘heirs’.

    If the ‘Erbschein’/ Eng. grant of representation = probate of a Will fails to be produced, the Rostock Nachlaßgericht will distribute the estate, not on the basis of the UK-domiciled German testator’s Will, but on a ludicrous intestacy basis of Frau xxx being an ‘unknown’ Erbin, like the rest of the Gemeinschaft.

    Margaret: I did consider ‘Frau xxx in community of heirs’, as the dictionary-driven term that bears no relationship to Eng. probate & succession practice, but the preposition sent me off-course. Also ‘in community with the residuary beneficiaries’ sounds even more preposterous if these are supposed to be untraced.

  8. Comments are surely there to be ‘cluttered up’?!

    I have said already and will say again: just because I translate it one way in one context, doesn’t mean I will translate it this way in every context. Actually my context was a translation into English of the BGB.
    Still, Adrian, I would have liked to see your German sentence. I don’t understand the significance of ‘unknown’ or the general situation.
    So what was the German for which you considered ‘Frau xxx in community of heirs’? I am curious as to whether you omitted the term ‘heir’ altogether.

    Why can this woman not get an Erbschein?

    Btw, I never suggested ‘residuary beneficiary’, did I, I just quoted it and I don’t think anyone is arguing in favour of it.

    I am familiar with the term coparcenary – I think from Cheshire and Fifoot on land law? –
    but on checking it, I find it a bit obscure. Women where there were no male heirs and whose relationship had something of a tenancy in common and something of a joint tenancy.

    I have to be honest and say I only really get into the details when I have a specific translation like AMM’s to do.

    My original problem, btw, was that I have a fixation about people always translating ‘gesetzlich’ as ‘statutory’ or ‘legal’, whereas in the law of succession it should often be translated as ‘intestate’. Of course, ‘statutory’ and ‘legal’ are sometimes right!

  9. Our common ground here seems to be closer than you think, Margaret, I agreeing with you that ‘in coparcenary’ is obscure and that resid. ben. for Erbe is off-target.

    Frau xxx is the testator’s widow back in the UK and the Universalerbin – which expanded term I believe does equate with residuary beneficiary if she cops the whole estate after deduction of tax and estate expenses.

    She has been asked by the German probate court to obtain an Eng. and not German ‘Erbschein’! I have already explained that, failing such, even she anchored in the Eng. Will will be considered ‘eine unbekannte Erbin in Erbengemeinschaft’ – in association with other persons entitled. This suggests the German probate court will otherwise disregard the Eng. Will and distribute as on intestacy.

    I, apprehensive of your refs. to heir to the throne, did not use heir(ess) anywhere.

  10. Good grief! Did the testator die in Germany, or what is the German element? Land? But presumably if she gets probate in England, this will be OK? I don’t understand the ‘unbekannt’.

  11. The testator with land in East Germany, having made an Eng. Will, died domiciled on the Channel islands where he left a widow Frau xxx.

    Quote from the East German letter to the widow from the Amt zur Regelung offener Vermögensfragen:

    ‘Bitte geben Sie uns auch das Nachlaßgericht (translated Probate Court = Registry in the UK), bei dem Sie den Antrag auf Erteilung des Erbscheines…gestellt haben, bekannt.

    Sollten Sie Ihre Berechtigung nicht in der erforderlichen Form nachweisen können oder wollen, gelten weitere Erben neben Frau yyy (another relative of the testator and presumably also named in the Will) als NICHT bekannt mit der Folge, daß Ansprüche nach dem Ausgleichsleistungsgesetz Frau yyy nebst weiteren UNbekannten Erben *in Erbengemeinschaft* zuzusprechen wären.’

    Even if it makes sense, it seems a reprehensible legal fiction.

  12. Frau yyy named in the same will, when that will has not been admitted?
    Presumably the effect of the last bit is to leave Frau xxx her rights against Frau yyy?
    Yes, I see you don’t need to refer to ‘heirs’ here.

    Any claims under the Compensation Payments Act would be granted to Frau yyy to be held jointly with other coheirs, perhaps.

  13. Yes to question 1 – Will not yet admitted.
    Question 2 – I’m unsure Frau xxx has any claims or will be claiming against Frau yyy. I don’t know the whole story and haven’t seen the original Will.
    Good version: ‘To be held jointly with other co-heirs’. Quaere: if these co-heirs are also deemed unknown or untraced and have to be advertised for.
    Is the effect on your Google ads up or down?

  14. Well, it shows more people than I would have thought are reading these exchanges. BTW, I don’t recall admitting that I ‘don’t know much about inheritance law’..

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