Property, Ownership, Inheritance, and other Legal Matters

As anyone who watches the news knows, there is a debt crisis taking place in Greece.
Greek households are increasingly burdened by debt and, by extension, so are Greek
estates. As an heir to a Greek estate, you would be well-advised to forget the old
admonition and instead “look that gift horse in the mouth” to avoid being saddled with
unexpected debts and liabilities.

Few people realize that heirs to Greek estates inherit the debts of the estate as well as
the assets. In fact, the heirs may become personally liable for that debt.

Similarly, few people are aware of the fact that certain next of kin “automatically” inherit
when their relative dies without a valid will (eg. Spouses, siblings, nieces, nephews,
parents may inherit).  

If you suspect that you may be an heir to a debt-burdened estate, you would be well-
advised to take the following immediate steps to determine the amount of debt entailed:

1.  You should ensure that you receive and review the deceased’s correspondence and
e-mails, if applicable. It is also advisable to monitor the deceased’s in-coming calls,
since many creditors contact debtors by phone in Greece.

2.  You should also contact any banks with which the deceased transacted in order to
determine the amount of outstanding loans, credit card debt and/or regular payments to
other creditors which were made by the decedent through his/her account.

3.  Since many debts to the public sector are filed with the Tax Authorities («Εφορία»), it
is imperative to search the Tax Office records in order to locate debts owed not only to
the Tax Authorities but also to other public sector offices, since many of these debts are
registered with the Tax Authorities.  

4.  If the deceased owned real property in Greece, you should hire a lawyer to conduct
title searches at the Mortgage Registries («Υποθηκοφυλακεία») closest to the location
of that property since adjudicated creditor actions and other burdens are often on file
with the Mortgage Registries in Greece.  

When you stand to inherit a debt-laden Greek estate, you have the following three
options, depending upon your circumstances.

1.  Formally Accept the Inheritance and Assume Liability for the Debt

If you are certain that you can cover the debt and that the estate is worth more than the
debt, you can formally accept the estate.

2.  Formally Renounce the Debt

If you know for a fact that the debt owed by the deceased is greater than the value of the
estate, you would be well advised to formally renounce the right to inheritance (known
in Greek as «Αποποίηση Κληρονομίας»). In the case of renunciation, deadlines are
critical so please note the following:

  • Residents of Greece must renounce within 4 months – You must formally
    renounce the inheritance within 4 months of the date upon which you learned
    that you are an heir, if you are, and the deceased was, a resident of Greece. To
    be on the safe side, this should be no later than 4 months from the date of
    death or the publication of the deceased’s last will and testament.

  • Non-residents of Greece must renounce within 1 year - If the deceased lived
    outside of Greece OR you lived outside of Greece when you learned that you are
    an heir, you have 1 year from the date upon which you learned of your right to
    inherit in which to formally renounce your inheritance.

Formal renunciation entails personally submitting a declaration before the clerk of the
court located in the area where the deceased was a resident. If the deceased was a
resident abroad, this is the court of Athens. In order for someone else to make this
declaration on your behalf, a specific Power of Attorney from either a Greek Consulate
abroad or a Greek Notary Public is required.

Once you renounce the inheritance, the law considers you to never have been an heir.
The estate therefore passes to the person who would have inherited if you had not
been alive at the time of the testator’s death. For those of us who are parents, this may
mean that our children are next in line to inherit. In order to validly renounce an
inheritance on behalf of a minor, both parents must submit declarations of renunciation
on behalf of the minor.  

I cannot stress enough the prudence of timely renunciations. I have seen a number of
heirs lose valuable personal property to the creditors of an inherited estate.  

Most recently, I have been contacted by people of Greek descent who live abroad and
have no contact with Greece and yet received summons from major Greek banks
advising them that legal action had been taken against them personally in Greece for
the payment of debts of which they were entirely unaware. In one case, the person was
not aware that she was considered an “heir” under Greek law.

3.  Formally Accept the Inheritance under the Benefit of Inventory

What do you do if you have no idea whether the deceased had any debts or if you know
he/she had debts but cannot determine the amount of those debts or the value of the

Fortunately, there is a third option. You may choose to accept the inheritance under the
Benefit of Inventory (known in Greece as «Ευεργέτημα της Απογραφής»).

This form of “acceptance of inheritance” limits your personal liability to the value of the
estate; however, it requires you to relinquish the estate to the deceased’s creditors. If
there are any assets available, after the creditors of the estate are satisfied, these
assets will pass to you, as the heir.

As with renunciation, acceptance under the Benefit of Inventory entails strict deadlines
which must be adhered to in order for the heir to benefit. Once again, the heir has from
4 months to 1 year, depending upon the circumstances, within which to submit a
declaration to the court located nearest to the residence of the deceased.

In order to be protected from personal liability, the heir is required to submit an
inventory of the assets of the estate to the same court within 4 months of the date upon
which the Declaration of Inheritance under the Benefit of Inventory was filed.

It is advisable and standard practice, to hire an attorney to handle the inventory, since
this entails significant investigation and documentation and the timeline is particularly
restrictive. The heir may also be required to respond to creditor’s court actions in order
to settle the estate.

You can prevent the Greek Debt Crisis from reaching your doorstep, if you remain
vigilant and take prompt and timely action! Assessing the value and liabilities of your
inheritance carefully, or “looking that gift horse in the mouth”, will allow you to determine
if the inheritance is a race horse, a plow horse or the back end of a horse.

Our firm has assisted many heirs to protect themselves and their families from
inherited debt. Indeed, we routinely assist clients with Greek inheritance and estate
planning matters. We would be honored to assist you and encourage you to contact us.

* This original article written by Arsinoi D. Lainioti.  Please feel free to print, distribute,
and share this article for non-profit purposes only.  If you wish to use this article in a
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