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 nationals.



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
bonds.


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.

_______________________________________________________________________
                 www.livingincrete.net    Copyright 2004-2013  Carol Palioudaki          
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