By Capt. Clyde Kilgore, 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command
In the event of a Soldier or family member death, courts may apply German Law, the law of a U.S. jurisdiction or a mixture of both, depending on the circumstances. Soldiers are encouraged to visit the Legal Assistance Office to speak with an attorney about estate planning.
Typically, German courts will not be involved in the disposition of personal property of a deceased US Soldier. The disposition of personal property of deceased Soldiers will usually be handled through the casualty assistance officer, and in accordance with any wishes of the deceased and the law of the Soldier’s home state.
German courts will be involved in the distribution of German real estate and or German bank accounts owned by a deceased Soldier. The German courts will look to see if the Soldier had a will, and then distribute the property in accordance with the will. If a will was executed in accordance with the law of the Soldier’s home state or in accordance with German law, the German courts will treat the will as valid. If a soldier dies without a will, the German courts will distribute the property located in Germany according to the intestacy statutes of that soldier’s home state.
If a German citizen-spouse of a Soldier dies, the German courts will look to see if that spouse had a will, and distribute the property accordingly. If the deceased German citizen-spouse of a soldier dies without a will, then the property will be distributed according to German intestacy statutes. Under the German intestacy statutes, the estate would be divided between the spouse and any children of the deceased.
Anyone who owns significant property located in Germany, such as German real estate or German bank accounts should speak to a German attorney regarding estate planning.
Generally, if the parents are married to each other and one parent is deceased, the other parent will assume full custody of the children. Both German and American courts tend to treat this situation similarly, and there is usually no need for the involvement of government agencies. Custody simply passes to the surviving spouse. This rule will function similarly regardless of whether the surviving spouse is a German citizen or a US Citizen, unless extenuating circumstances require court involvement.
If both parents are deceased and the minor child of a Soldier is located in Germany, DoD Social Work Services, a component of the Behavioral Health Clinic, will make an initial determination as to what relatives will be determined to be the best guardians for a child. Behavioral Health Clinic has separate offices in Vilseck, Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels. They can be reached by selecting the appropriate option through the main clinic’s line.
However, the guardianship ultimately will need to be decided by a court, either in the U.S. or in Germany, depending on where the child will live. German courts have jurisdiction over the minor children of deceased parents as long as the children are physically located in Germany.
If there are German relatives that would like to become the guardians for the child, the German Youth Welfare Office will make a recommendation regarding guardianship to the German courts. In any event, guardianship of the minor will be decided based upon the best interests of the child, next of kin, and any wishes the parents have expressed.