Being an Heir Could Be a Liability

by Christos Iliopoulos, Esq.

Being entitled to an inheritance is usually a great thing. True. Someone passes away, usually a relative, sometimes a distant one, or a friend, and this is sad. However, the legal fact of the matter is that you are entitled to the inheritance or to a share of it.

All you have to do is to arrange the paperwork with a lawyer and a notary public in Greece (if real estate is involved), find the titles of the properties or get the details from the bank (if bank accounts are included in the estate), send the power of attorney to Greece and a few months later you may add your share of the estate to your assets.

There are times, however, when the deceased had no property, in which case you may be a little bit disappointed, but you forget about that and nothing happens to you.

The third scenario is a bit scary. You are the (or one of the) legal heir(s) of the deceased and he/she not only had no property, but owed money to third parties, like banks or other creditors. Recently in Greece many people owe to banks, because they have taken loans or overused credit cards, which they can’t pay back. When they die, their children, spouse or other relatives may have to pay the bill. Unless, they do the right thing and they renounce the inheritance.

When do I have to renounce an inheritance? You do not have to renounce, you just have the option to. When you know that you are a legal heir to a person who owes money to third parties and his other assets are not enough to pay the debts, you have the option to renounce your share, to wave your rights on the inheritance. The same thing you do when the inheritance does not have debts, but you want to renounce in favour of another heir, like your siblings.

Athens panorama with Temple of Olympian Zeus
(courtesy of Christos Iliopoulos)
If the deceased lived and died in Greece and you live in Greece, too, the time limit to renounce is four months from the time of the passing, or from the time you learned that you are an heir. If the deceased had his/her domicile outside of Greece and/or you live outside of Greece, the time limit to renounce is twelve months.

If you do not renounce within the 4 or 12-month time limit, Greek law says that you have accepted the inheritance, even if you have done nothing in specific to accept it. So, if you live in America and a relative of yours dies in Greece or anywhere in the world, you have 12 months from the time that you learned that you are an heir, to renounce the inheritance. This may be tricky, as finding out that you are an heir does not mean that you also found out that the inheritance is a liability. You may learn that later, when it is too late.

Another tricky point is when you know that you are not an heir, so you do not run the risk of inheriting liabilities, but someone who is an heir renounces on time, and then you become an heir. From that point on, you have the same time limits (4 and 12 months) from the time the previous relative renounced, to renounce the inheritance, otherwise you have accepted the inheritance/liability.

An example is when the parent renounces the inheritance he is entitled to from an uncle, but his under age (below 18) children fail to do the same. Under Greek law, the children always inherit (they can’t renounce), unless you go to court and get permission to renounce on behalf of your under age children, if you persuade the court that the inheritance is only a liability.

How do I renounce my share on an inheritance? You collect the death certificate, the certificate of closer relatives and/or the Will, (which prove that you are an heir), and your Greek id or your Greek or US passport and you sign a formal document at the Court in Greece. If you live in the US, you sign the paperwork at the Consulate of Greece near you.

If you are in the US and you want to renounce in Greece, you must sign a specifically worded power of attorney, preferably at the Consulate of Greece, or at a notary public with Apostille, you send it to your attorney in Greece and the attorney renounces on your behalf by signing the documents at the Court in Greece.

Before you renounce, it is advisable to make sure that the inheritance has only debts and liabilities, because the inheritance may have some debts, but other assets may be enough to cover the liabilities and the net profit may go to your pockets.

If you are not sure whether the inheritance has a negative balance or not, you have a middle option, between accepting it and renouncing it. You can accept the inheritance on the condition that its assets are of higher value than the liabilities. In order to prove which one is higher (the valuable assets or the liabilities), Greek law gives you a very limited period of four months from the time you accepted on condition, to get a court order and instruct a notary and two experts to estimate the net value of the estate and if this is negative, you do not have to pay anything out of your pocket. If you fail to draft the report on the assets/liabilities of the estate within the four-month limit, you will have to pay any liabilities.

A final point is that it makes no difference whether you have a Greek passport or not. Being an heir in Greece is not related to having the Greek citizenship or not. You can inherit property, other assets, movables or cash etc. in Greece without having to obtain a Greek passport and the fact that you do not have a Greek passport does not necessarily mean that you will not inherit liabilities, if you are the next of kin to a deceased.

The conclusion is that when you learn of the passing of someone in Greece (or of a Greek person elsewhere in the world) and you know that you have become an heir, it is advisable that you find out whether the estate has any serious liabilities, which are not covered by the assets. In any case, whether you want to accept or renounce the inheritance, you must get legal advice by a lawyer in Greece. Having to pay out of your own pocket liabilities of an inheritance will not happen to you, as long as you make sure you renounce the inheritance that you do not want, within the 4 or 12-month limit.

Christos ILIOPOULOS, attorney at the Supreme Court of Greece, LL.M.

(Posting date 10 April 2011

Christos Iliopoulos is an attorney at the Supreme Court of Greece, LL.M., in Athens, Greece, specializing in International and European Business Law. For more information about him, see his brief biographical sketch under the HCS section for Contributing Authors at He has submitted many articles to HCS; readers can browse these in the archives section bearing his name at the URL He can be contacted by e-mail at or by phone (from the US) 011-30-210-6400282; mobile 011-30-693-2775920, fax 011-30-210-6400282, or by postal mail at the address: 105 Alexandras Ave., Athens, 11475, HELLAS

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