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Red Tape - Wills
Wills Making a Will in Greece Wills in Greece & Crete
by Warwick Gibbons
There has often been discussion on Living in Crete, and other forums, about how to deal with inheritance when
the deceased is a foreign national but has property in Greece. Many different opinions have been expressed,
often by different lawyers, and there has never really been a clear answer as to the best way to proceed. Sadly
in June 2012 my wife died so I have had to go through this process. I thought it might be useful to people if I
described my experience. It still won’t give a definitive answer to all cases but it might help with some common
situations. Remember it is only my experience and does not constitute advice. In the discussion below the word
“Property” means anything owned by the deceased person and includes fixed property like land or houses or
moveable property like money or jewellery.
1. Greek inheritance law only concerns itself with property in Greece. The provisions of UK inheritance law
depend whether the deceased was domiciled in the UK or outside the UK at the time of death. If he/she was
domiciled inside the UK, it concerns itself with all property owned by the deceased worldwide.
2. Greek law has strict rules about who inherits what depending on the relationship between the deceased
and the different parties. UK law is much less prescriptive although a will can be challenged. It is made
perfectly clear in the Greek legal code that, for a foreign national, provisions that don’t follow the Greek
requirements will be honoured provided they meet the legal requirements of the persons country of nationality,
i.e. as a foreign national you are not bound by the Greek requirements. I don’t know what happens where some
parties are Greek and some aren't or where some have dual nationality. My wife and I made fairly typical
reciprocal wills in which everything one spouse owned was left to the other spouse with the surviving spouse
acting as executor. If the other spouse pre-deceased then everything was left to our only son with him acting as
executor. This is in accordance with English law but not in accordance with Greek law as it applies to Greek
3. The allowed formats for wills in Greece differ from those in the UK. Again the Greek legal code makes it
completely clear that wills drafted in accordance with the laws of the person’s country of nationality are
acceptable. Despite this, most Greek lawyers recommend making a will that conforms to the Greek format.
They usually grudgingly concede that it is not essential but claim it will save time and money to have one. Since
one acceptable format in Greece is a handwritten will not involving any lawyer or notary, my late wife and I
decided to make both an English and a Greek will in that format. The English will was typed and witnessed by
two witnesses who were not beneficiaries. The Greek will was handwritten and signed by the testator alone.
Both wills were dated the same. The wills were kept at home and no lawyer or notary was involved. It is
perhaps worth noting that our situation was very simple. We had been married for 44 years and had no
previous partners. We had a single adult son. Our only other relatives were aunts and cousins so there was
no real possibility of the will being challenged. People with more complex relationships, where there is a higher
possibility of someone challenging the provisions, might consider using a format of the Greek will that does
involve a notary.
4. Although the provisions of both the English and the Greek wills were the same, they differed in detail.
The English will dealt with all worldwide property but was not specific about what that included. The Greek will
only dealt with property in Greece but was much more specific. All names in the Greek will included father’s and
mother’s names and fixed property was identified in detail, e.g. name of village, Dimos and Nomos , name of
notary who made the contract and the contract number.
5. I think the really key aspect of dealing with a will in Greece is choice of lawyer. I chose a lawyer,
Konstantinos Nikolantonakis of Greek Property Law, who I knew had already dealt successfully with the wills of
foreign nationals. In particular he had acted on behalf of one UK ex-pat whose husband had died in Crete
intestate and had, with some difficulty, managed to overcome all the hurdles that presented. He had the choice
of whether to process the Greek will or the UK one. He chose to use the Greek one which tended to validate
our decision to write both types.
6. Processing the will through the Greek system has taken almost 14 months but most people should not
encounter such delays. When I gave the will to the lawyer, shortly after my wife’s death, the court that
processes wills in Greece was being changed and they were not accepting any wills for 3 months. Obviously
when they did start accepting them again, there was a backlog which was exacerbated by most of the legal
system going on strike or work to rule in protest against liberalisation proposals for the profession. When the
system started to function normally again and the backlog cleared, a mistake was found on the Death
Certificate. The registrar had entered my name in a space that was supposed to be for my wife’s maiden
name. The registrar then refused to correct the mistake and my lawyer had to go through the process of
getting a court order to force her to do so. Obviously this took yet more time. . It is worth having an intelligent
Greek speaker with you to check over the Death Certificate as it is issued. It is easy to get mistakes rectified on
the spot but possibly not later. You can ask for as many copies as you need free of charge. I got six. Once the
Death Certificate had been corrected all the documentation had to go to Athens in order for the court there to
certify that no will had been submitted there.
7. Final certification validating the will by the court in Chania was received by my lawyer in late July 2013.
The notary then drew up a new contract transferring my wife’s 50 % share of our land and house to me.
Effectively the deeds to the house now consist of two contracts: the original one showing me owning 50 % and
my wife 50 % and the new one transferring my wife’s 50 % to me.
8. We had two joint bank accounts in Greece but these did not present a problem. The banks simply
wanted to have a copy of the Greek Death Certificate. You can’t simply transfer the account into a single
name. You need to open a new account in a single name, transfer the assets of the joint account to it and
close the original joint account. I am not sure if the deceased has a bank account in his/her sole name if the
bank would need the court certification that the will was valid or not. In the UK it depends on the size of the
account and the threshold level varies from bank to bank.
9. I haven’t dealt with the UK process in detail since this can easily be researched on the internet. For
example see http://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk/HMCTS/GetForm.do?court_forms_id=735 for forms and other
information relating to Probate and http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/inheritancetax/ for information relating to Inheritance
Tax. The whole UK process took about four months but this did include a delay. The Probate Court not only
wanted the original UK will but also an Official Copy of any foreign will. This means a copy issued by the court
in Greece after it has been certified as valid. Since the Greek court wasn’t functioning I sent a copy certified by
my lawyer. They wouldn’t accept this but did accept a copy certified by a notary provided the notary also stated
that it was a valid will under Greek law.
10. Many UK organisations will want a copy of the Death Certificate. If you submit the Greek Death
Certificate to the consulate in Heraklion they will issue a UK style Death Certificate. It isn’t cheap but it probably
simplifies matters in the UK. For joint accounts with offshore banks I sent a copy of the UK Death Certificate,
certified by my Greek lawyer, and all but one accepted this. The exception wanted an original copy and said
that it was illegal for them to accept a certified copy. When I pointed out that they could easily buy an original
from the consulate for €79 the certified copy magically became acceptable. On shore banks accepted certified
copies and also released funds in a sole named account without probate. The only organisation that insisted
on having a Grant of Probate was National Savings and Investments for the release of funds from premium
11. The total cost in Greece was €2,500. This includes lawyer’s fees, notary’s fees, court fees, any taxes
and any expenses incurred. It should only have cost €2,000 but the court order added an extra €500. Probate
in the UK cost £105 but would have been zero if the total estate was less than £5,000. There are additional
small charges for extra copies of the Grant of Probate, i.e. £1 per copy for normal grants and £6 for the first
copy of a grant with attached proven will and then £1 per extra copy. The UK style Death Certificate from the
Consulate cost €128 to actually register and then €79 for each certificate issued. The €128 does not include a
copy so the minimum charge is effectively €207. I got two original copies. One to send to the Probate Court
and one to make certified copies.
I hope the above helps anybody faced with the same situation or who is deciding what sort of will to write.