The Decedent Lived Abroad, But Left Assets in Greece

byChristos Iliopoulos

It’s not uncommon litigation to start in Greece with regards to how an inheritance is settled. The heirs may fight between themselves on how the inheritance is divided and who gets what share. Disputes may arise especially in cases with an international aspect. The deceased may have lived in one country, but his assets are located in another and the heirs may also live in different countries.

In such cases, each heir may try to use the law of the country which suits him/her better in order to put forward claims related to the assets of the deceased. If one heir starts a lawsuit action about the division of the inheritance in one country, the courts of that country must first establish that they have international jurisdiction to try this case, which involves the property of the deceased who lived in one country, but left property and heirs in one or more countries.

Thousands of Greeks left Greece decades ago and established themselves in other countries, where they started families and obtained assets (real estate, movables, bank accounts, etc.). These same people very often obtained properties in Greece, too, or inherited properties with assets located in Greece.

Patmos--image courtesy of
Christos Iliopoulos
When they pass away, their assets, located around the world, may cause disputes among the heirs. Each heir has an interest to use the law of a specific country, in order to increase his/her share on the property.

Take one example: the deceased was born in Greece, but emmigrated to America. He retained Greek citizenship all his life, because he never renounced it and there was never issued a ministerial decision in Greece recognizing the loss of his Greek citizenship, despite the fact that the same Greek-born person obtained the American (USA) citizenship, too.

When he died, he left property in Greece and a dispute has arisen between his heirs on how the Greek property is divided. One of the heirs wants to apply US law, since this law may validate the deceased’s Will in its entirety and give him a larger share, even if he is not related to the deceased.

On the other hand, the family of the deceased wants to apply Greek law, as this law recognizes a larger share for the spouse and the children of the deceased (forced share), even if the deceased left a Will without leaving anything to his spouse and children.

The decedent’s children (issue) and the surviving spouse may have a right to bring a lawsuit action before the Greek courts, in order to obtain their forced heirship rights, as immediate family of the deceased. The other heir, who is not related to the deceased, but gets all the property according to the Will, may have an opposing interest, and he/she may file a lawsuit action in the courts of the USA, to get the whole of the inheritance.

For assets located in Greece, the Greek courts have jurisdiction, provided the deceased was a Greek citizen (even if he had dual citizenship). The fact that the deceased lived and died outside of Greece is not enough to strip the Greek courts of jurisdiction on how his Greek assets will be divided.

That is the precedence which was followed by ruling No. 400/2009 of the Greek Supreme Court (Arios Pagos). In that case, the deceased died outside of Greece. He had lived his life outside of Greece, but left property located in Greece. The Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals in Nafplion ruled that Greek courts did not have jurisdiction.

However, when the case was heard by Arios Pagos, the ruling was different. The Supreme Court decided that the decision of the Court of Appeals in Nafplion had not interpreted the law properly and that in such cases Greek courts had international jurisdiction to try the substance of the case, at least with regards to property located in Greece.

According to Greek law, the surviving spouse, even if left completely out of the Will, in most cases is entitled to claim 1/8 of the decedent’s property. The decedent’s issue (children) are entitled to claim (forced share) 3/8 of the inheritance, which is half of what they would get (3/4) if the deceased had died intestate (without a Will) and always provided the deceased had the Greek citizenship.

(Posting date 10 February 2010

Christos Iliopoulos is an attorney at law, LL.M. at the Supreme Court of Greece 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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