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Certification and Authentication of documents

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01.12.2017 - Article

Sometimes, even when abroad, Germans and foreigners may need to have documents certified or signatures or manual signs, transcripts or copies authenticated. Local notaries and authorities are not always able to be of assistance if the document in question is required in Germany.


Please note


Given the desirability of long-term planning and the legal options for shaping marital relations it is necessary to seek thorough advice, which can best be obtained from a notary during a visit to Germany. An assessment of your particular case is often necessary, especially when the marriage is between nationals of two different states. Such an advisory session tends to cover issues such as matrimonial property, maintenance obligations and provision in old age. Notaries often recommend that, in addition to a marriage contract, you execute further dispositions together (such as contracts of inheritance/joint wills), if possible in Germany. If your visit to Germany is too short to conclude the business, you should bring the draft documents drawn up by your lawyer or notary with you.



Certification and authentication of documents by German missions abroad

Sometimes, even when abroad, Germans and foreigners may need to have documents certified or signatures or manual signs, transcripts or copies authenticated. Local notaries and authorities are not always able to be of assistance if the document in question is a marriage contract, a statement in parent and child matters, a will, an application for a certificate of inheritance or a contract to purchase real estate which is required in Germany. In such cases, the German embassies and consulates are often the places to go. German consular officers are empowered by statute to undertake such legal acts for the purposes of German law (section 2 of the Konsulargesetz (Consular Act)). Documents executed before a consular officer rank equally with those executed before a notary in Germany (section 10 (2) Konsulargesetz). The fees are levied in accordance with the Auslandskostenverordnung (Foreign Costs Ordinance) and are roughly equivalent to those charged by German notaries.

Consular officers only certify documents where this is necessary, i.e. where German law requires that a document be certified. They do not compete with German notaries. They merely offer a supplementary service which would not otherwise be available. Consular officers have a discretionary duty; unlike notaries in Germany who may not refuse their services without sufficient reason, they are not obliged to execute certifications.

Please note that not every mission has a consular officer empowered to undertake all certifications. If you want to have a document certified abroad by a German consular officer, you should ask, when making an appointment, whether the local staff can in fact help you. In particular where complicated real estate transactions or transactions under company law are involved, it is recommended that you bring a draft drawn up by a consultant notary in Germany with you.

A signature or manual sign is authenticated by being acknowledged or executed in the presence of a consular officer. Signatures on documents to be kept on file at a court may only be authenticated by being executed in the presence of a consular officer. In both cases, the person whose signature or manual sign is to be authenticated must appear in person.

When certifying that transcripts or copies are true copies of originals or certified transcripts/copies, the original must be presented to the consular officer. A transcript or copy of a non-authenticated transcript cannot be authenticated.


Typical documents requiring certification

Applications for certificates of inheritance

A certificate of inheritance is, according to section 2353 et seq. of the German Civil Code, an official certificate regulating the rights to property left behind by a deceased person. It is issued by a Court of Probate and can be applied for via a German mission abroad; the missions can also certify the application. Such applications are standard business for the missions.

Marriage contracts and contracts of inheritance; testamentary dispositions (wills)

Company representatives, development assistance experts, pensioners and students often live abroad permanently or for longer periods of time and want to make dispositions which would, in Germany, have to be executed by a notary. People also often wish to clearly regulate the legal consequences of a planned marriage before entering into it (for example by making agreements regarding matrimonial property and what will happen to it if the marriage is later dissolved).



Real estate matters

Consular officers can also certify sales of real estate and powers of attorney needed for such sales, just like a notary (section 10 (2) Konsulargesetz). But where a complicated transaction is involved, drafts drawn up by German lawyers or notaries should be produced or alternatively the sale of land should be certified in Germany. In some cases it may be sensible to conclude a real estate transaction through a person without power of attorney and to approve his actions post facto.



Acknowledgements of paternity

Consular officers also record acknowledgements of paternity and the mother's or child's consent thereto, in so far as German law is applicable and compatible with the law of the host country. Maintenance obligations and custody declarations for German jurisdictions may also be certified.


Statements by witnesses made before consular officers for German court hearings

Following a request by a German court, specially authorized consular officers can examine witnesses and certify their statements. They can also administer oaths to witnesses.