The news coverage of the Causa Gurlitt has almost exclusively focused on the Museum of Fine Arts Bern’s decision to accept the bequest. A statement issued by the Probate Court in Munich (Nachlassgericht München) on the same date has drawn little attention. The Probate Court announced that on 21st November 2014, at 7.16 pm, Cornelius Gurlitt’s cousin, Uta Werner, had filed an informal application for the issuance of a certificate of inheritance as a heir on intestacy.
What does this mean?
A certificate of inheritance declares the right of succession and, in case of several heirs, the size of each individual share (see Section 2353 German Civil Code [GCC]). Following receipt, the Probate Court determines whether the application for the issuance of a certificate fulfils the formal obligations as stated in Sections 2354-2357 GCC. In particular, the applicant claiming to be an heir on intestacy must lay out whether any other person(s) exist that would limit his share or exclude him from the inheritance and whether the deceased has left any will (Sections 2354 (1) 3. and 4. GCC).
The Probate Court will only assess the validity of the will if the application meets all formal requirements. If the requirements are met, it will investigate ex officio doubts as to the testamentary capacity of the deceased at the time of the making of his will (see Sections 2358 (1) GCC: “The probate court must, with the aid of the evidence furnished by the applicant, of its own motion make the investigations necessary to establish the facts, and must hear the evidence that appears suitable“). This is contrary to a declaratory action for the invalidity of the will, where the Probate Court will asses the testamentary capacity only on the application of the claimant. It is noteworthy that Uta Werner has just recently commissioned a psychiatric report which states that Mr Gurlitt was suffering from “a slight dementia, a schizoid personality disorder, and a delusional disorder” when making his will.
Until the Probate Court has reached a decision on Uta Werner’s informal application, the appointed administrator will remain in charge of safeguarding and managing the Gurlitt estate. The Probate Court made no indication as to when a decision can be expected.