Interview of Olga Kallergi to the National Herald

«Consult Experts on Inheritance Law regarding Wills»

Attorney Olga Kallergi “enlightens” the readers of the «N.H.»

NATIONAL HERALD SATURDAY 17 – SUNDAY 18 JUNE 2017

Attorney Olga Kallergi at her Athens offices.

By Demetrios Tsakas

THE drafting of a Will by Greeks that own assets both in the United States and Greece is a complex matter, on the one hand because it relates to the testator’s intention and on the other hand to one’s life works. Especially after the legislation amendments that have taken place in Greece during the last few years, which pertain to tax and inheritance laws, the issue of Acceptance of Inheritance has become one of crucial interest. Attorney Olga Kallergi, who maintains her own offices in Astoria and Athens and specialises, among other areas, in inheritance law, suggests to Greeks to prefer the drafting of a “Public Will” and to consult an attorney specialising in Inheritance Law. She also proposes that two Wills be drafted, one in accordance with U.S. Inheritance Laws and one in accordance with Greek law, so that no one may object to the testator’s intention and Will. During her interview with the “National Herald”, Ms. Kallergi addressed a series of other matters and issues that her offices handle. Following is the full text of the interview:

What services do your offices in Greece and New York provide? “Our offices in Greece and New York handle any type of case that involves our clients’ real estate (transfers, title searches, purchases, rennovations through our network of engineers and contractors, leasing etc.), inheritance matters (Wills probate, acceptances of inheritance), tax matters, recognitions in Greece of foreign divorce, custody or other judgments, family law cases (child abduction, divorces, child support and maintenance) as well as Greek citizenship cases for persons of Greek descent. Finally, we have a partner in the U.S.A. specialising in Immigration Law who handles any visa or green card matter, as well as other immgiration related cases.”

In which areas of law do you specialise and with which other companies do you work with for matters outside your specialty?   “Our office specialises in the areas of Family Law, Inheritance Law, Real Estate Law and Citizenship. We do not practice general law, that is, we do not handle cases on other areas of law, but we do maintain a network of experiecned and acknowledged attorneys on a european level as well as in the United States and Canada, both in the areas we specialise in (when a case involves a State other than New York) as well as in areas we do not handle. We are experienced in cases that involve the laws of at least two countries.

What advice would you give to the Greeks that have assets in Greece? “Given the constant changes in legislation and especially in tax laws as well as the laws regulating real estate, I would advise them to assign their tax filings to an experienced professional (lawyer or accountant) on a permanent basis (yearly), as the monitoring of changes in tax laws becomes harder each day, even for the professionals that deal with these matters.  Assigning tax obligations to a professional in the field will ensure that they are in full compliance with all their obligations regarding their real estate, which in turn will protect them from potential fines, penalties and other complications. Lets not forget that the rights of the Greek State in regards to oustanding debts of citizens have been significantly broadened during the last few years and the owner of real estate and taxpayer no longer has the increased protections that were available to him by the Laws regarding foreclosures, freezing of bank accounts and debt collection procedures.”

Which is the best way to draft and file one’s Will? “An excellent question. In my line of work, I often encounter issues arising out of lack of knowledge or guidance that the Greeks living abroad have in regards to the conditions a Will must meet, whether it has been drafted pursuant to U.S. or Greek Laws. Occassionally, the Estate of the testaror ends up being disposed in a manner contrary to the testator’s last will, exactly because of the existance of multuple valid Wills which are in need of interpretation (an issue that will often lead to one of the Wills being declared void) in a way that was contrary to the testator’s true will. As a general principle, the “golden rule” is the following: always draft a “public” and not a holographic Will . A public Will drafted before a Notary in the presence of witnesses, is hard to be annuled and allows the testator to dispose of his assets in any manner and to whomever he wishes, including by bequests to non-relatives (an option that is no longer possible in holographic Wills based to recent amendments of the applicable laws) In addition, it is extremely important, before drafting a Will, to consult an attorney specialising in Inheritance Law, in order to secure that the Estate will end up in the hands of the person the testator chose as well as that no matters are left unregulated, that may relate to the inheritance and affect the validity of a Will. Especially for those Greeks that have assets both in the United States and Greece, it is often necessary to draft two separate Wills, one in accordance with U.S. Law and one in accordance with Greek Law, in which case they really must consult an Attorney to avoid the risk of either Will cancelling the other, something I have personally often seen happen during my career. ”

What changes have happened due to Greece’s monitoring  by the E.U. in parental gifts, inheritances and similar matters?  “The basic change is the significant increase of taxation of property conveyances as well as the constantly increasing renouncements of inheritance filed because of the aforementioned increased real estate taxes.

What opportunities exist in the real estate market and what are the challenges those interested in buying or selling in Greece face?  “The real estate market in Greece is going through the worst crisis in the last decades. The result of this crisis is that one may now find exceptional investment opportunities in the real estate market, as sale prices in many instances have droped way below the taxable values and there are properties for sale in nice areas and in excellent prices. Of course, this crisis also creates dangers. It is important to conduct a thorough title search regarding the property we are interested in purchasing, as such properties are sometimes mortgaged. A technical inspection of the property by a certified engineer is also required, given the fact that there are often illegalities and building violations that will create problems for the new property owner. In the event of a sale, the owner must be current with his or her tax obligations and have complied with all tax filings for the past five years and the actual condition of the property (square meters, areas etc.) must be in compliance with that reflected in the Title Deed and the one reported in tax statements.”

RADICAL CHANGES IN FAMILY LAW IN GREECE

We have been hearing a lot about upcoming changes in Family Law. Although no legislation has been implemented as of yet, the changes will be radical in certain areas of family law (at least based on the existing status quo as well as the legal tradition). Some of the discussed and proposed changes will involve the creation of a specialised Family Court, the founding of a Marriage Counselling Support Office, the institution of joint child custody (even after the issuance of a divorce judgment), the formation of a new way to calculate child support, the protection of the child’s interests but also the creation of a domestic partnership for same-sex couples (which will include provisions regarding the couple’s inheritance rights).

The first substantive amendment of Family Law took place in 1983. It is self-evident that legislation passed more than 20 years ago is at best “out-dated” and cannot address the needs of contemporary families. The new legislation aims to equalise the responsibilities and rights of both parents regarding their children’s custody. Pursuant to the introductory essay of the Ministry of Justice, for the first time ever in Greece there will be a same-sex couples partnership agreement (a matter on which Greece has been convicted several times by the Human Rights Court). The Greek Ministry has made it clear that no same-sex marriage option will be available (primarily due to the strong influence of the Greek Orthodox Church traditions in the country and the major opposition from religious organisations and a significant part of the population).

Along with the founding of a Specialised Family Court, there will be mandatory mediation before the parents can actually go to Court; mediation will be handled by trained family mediators who will attempt to help the parties find a mutually acceptable solution to their disputes. If mediation fails, then the case will be sent to the Courts. There will be one judge, assisted by court officers who will be trained in resolving family disputes. Parents will be able to request advice from the Family Court and the trained officers and be informed regarding their rights and obligations. The Court decisions will be subject to appeal. The Appellate Court (comprised of one judge as well) will also attempt to compromise the parties’ claims through mediation. The existing provisions regarding consensual divorces will remain in effect.

Major changes are also anticipated in adoption law and distribution of marital property (it is expected that the categories of people who can adopt will be increased and the process will be more flexible).

Another radical change will be the protection of joint child custody. The majority of European Countries already have this regulation but this is a first one for Greece. Child support will also be determined based on more objective criteria. Up to now, both parties were free to submit evidence (through documentation and witness testimonies) in an attempt to prove each other’s financial capacity and the Court could go either way based on the subjective allegations of the parties. Based on the new system, the judge will have a special Table of necessary expenses of the child, based on which he or she will determine the necessary expenses (for the payment of which both parents will be liable in accordance with their financial status). It is hoped that the institution of a more objective method of calculating child support will put an end to endless court battles, litigation, fighting and mutual accusations which are detrimental to the children that are caught in the middle of their parents’ dispute.

Writer’s comment: We stand 100% behind these amendments but will wait to see the final legislation before deciding; after all, there is plenty of precedence when it comes to great aspirations and plans that remain exactly that: aspirations and plans.