Cash Assets in a Will

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Higher Regional Court of Oldenburg: Cash includes money in bank accounts

Wills should always use clear terms to avoid ambiguity and ensure that the testator’s final wishes are implemented as intended. A term that has increasingly led to disputes among heirs is “cash assets”. On December 20, 2023, the Higher Regional Court of Oldenburg ruled, through the interpretation of a will, that “cash assets” refer to money that is immediately available, not just physical cash but also funds accessible through cashless transactions like card payments. However, securities do not fall under “cash assets” but are considered capital assets according to the court (Case No.: 3 U 8/23).

If a testator’s intent is not clearly evident from the wording of the will, the court must determine the actual intent through the interpretation of the will. The court goes beyond the literal text to understand what the testator intended to convey with the chosen terms, according to the commercial law firm MTR Legal Attorneys, which advises on inheritance law among other areas.

Choose Clear Terms in Wills

To avoid the need for interpretation, terms and phrases in wills should always be chosen very precisely. This is not always easy, especially as the meaning of terms like “cash assets” can evolve over time, as demonstrated by the case before the Higher Regional Court of Oldenburg.

In the underlying case, the testator had transferred a property to one daughter as part of anticipated inheritance succession, accounting for future inheritance and compulsory share claims. He had appointed his other two children as heirs in his will. However, the will also included a bequest for the other daughter, who was to receive one-third of the “cash assets” at the time of the inheritance. The bequest specifically stated:

“The cash assets available at the time of the inheritance shall be paid out to my daughter (…) in a one-third share.”

Subsequently, the daughter demanded information on the capital assets from her siblings through a tiered lawsuit. According to the siblings, the testator’s bank deposits and securities totaled approximately 192,000 euros, with the account holdings being about 153,000 euros. This included approximately 34,000 euros in securities, cooperative shares worth 3,000 euros, and nearly 2,000 euros in cash.

Dispute Among Heirs

The daughter argued that her father’s bequest under the term “cash assets” included all his liquid assets, particularly bank deposits, securities, and cash in the narrower sense. She therefore demanded one-third of this total—about 64,000 euros—from her siblings. However, the siblings believed that the testator meant only the cash on hand when he referred to “cash assets.”

Eventually, the Higher Regional Court of Oldenburg had to determine the testator’s actual intent through will interpretation. The court noted that payment transactions are predominantly cashless nowadays. Thus, it was too narrow to interpret “cash assets” as strictly physical cash. Rather, “cash assets” should include all immediately available funds held at banks, as per the court.

Term Cash Encompasses Immediately Available Money

With the increase in card payments, the term “cash” has shifted. Therefore, the concept of cash now encompasses all money that is immediately available, including through card payments, the court further explained. However, securities are not cash assets; they fall under the broader term of capital assets.

Therefore, not only the cash but also the account balances of the testator should be considered in the daughter’s claim from the bequest. In total, almost 155,000 euros. One-third of this would go to the plaintiff daughter. The securities and cooperative shares were not to be considered. The plaintiff had not proven that the testator also understood these to be part of the “cash assets,” ruled the Higher Regional Court of Oldenburg.

To avoid disputes among heirs, terms and phrases should always be as clear as possible. MTR Legal Attorneys advises on wills, inheritance contracts, and other aspects of inheritance law.


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