Max Planck Society

Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law

Media Information
Online version Handwörterbuch des Europäischen Privatrechts
Administration of Estates in Historical and Comparative Perspective

Post-doctoral project by Jan Peter Schmidt


It is not only laypersons but also experts who tend to consider the law of succession exclusively from an economic perspective, viewing its central task as the distribution of a deceased’s assets to his or her survivors. The associated legal questions that arise include the extent to which a testator is free to determine the beneficiaries of the inheritance and the distribution of the estate in the absence of a last will.

Yet in emphasizing the distributive dimension of succession law, its “implementation dimension” or “mechanics” are usually relegated to the background. How do rights actually transfer from the deceased party to other individuals? How is it ensured that the deceased’s creditors are not disadvantaged? How does the law deal with a designated heir who has no interest in succession on account of, for instance, a fear that the deceased’s debts may attach to his or her own assets?

In his Habilitationsschrift (post-doctoral dissertation), Dr. Jan Peter Schmidt employs a comparative and historical lens to examine these and other aspects of the overall event of succession under the umbrella term of “administration of estates”. He maps out the common regulatory challenges that are hidden under a confusing myriad of terms and legal constructions and shows how the resulting conflicts of interest can be resolved. At the same time, he makes clear that existing studies adopt an overly formalistic approach and are consequently of little value.