New Developments: The (In)Famous Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg Will Continued

New developments in the case of the (in)famous Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg will. A local newspaper reports that, after the death of Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg who died last year, there is a family dispute over the inheritance within the family.

Schloss Berleburg
To recap: In 1943, Fürst Gustav Albrecht of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg drew up a will for his inheritance. While the exact contents of the will are not known publicly, it is common knowledge that the will includes a stipulation that his heir needs to marry a woman, who is a "Protestant", "aryan" and "noble". Prince Gustav Albrecht, who was the father of the aforementioned Prince Richard, went missing in action in June 1944 while serving as a Nazi officer on a campaign in the Soviet Union. He was declared dead in 1969. It has long been assumed that his will passed over his own son, Richard, in favour of Richard's male heirs to save inheritance taxes. Richard's son Gustav was born in 1968, the year before Gustav Albrecht was officially declared dead. It is also believed that the will has prevented Prince Gustav from marrying his longtime partner Carina Axelsson. (More on the matter here.)

However, the new claims in the article by local newspaper "Westfalenpost" do not make things any clearer - and probably even more complicated. Allegedly, there is some dispute within the family about who gets to be the head of the family and be the heir. A statement was released by the family saying that "For the arrangement of the consequences of the death of Richard Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, certain passages of the will of his father Gustav-Albrecht Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg must be observed. The application of a will dating back to 1943 in the year 2017 raises difficult legal questions at various points. These legal issues are currently being clarified and appropriate arrangements have been made for the time until a resolution is found."

According to the local rumour mill, a cousin of Prince Richard, Prince Ludwig-Ferdinand of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, wants to take over (possibly parts of) Gustav's position and inheritance. When asked by the newspaper, Ludwig-Ferdinand, who lives in nearby Bad Laasphe where Schloss Wittgenstein is located, denied this and said "I won't discuss these matters, they do not interest us. Thank you for your understanding." Some of the rumours may have been based on recent reports about the wedding of Ludwig's Ferdinand's daughter Theodora. German illustrated magazine "Bunte" claimed in their article about last month's wedding that Princess Theodora and her new husband Count Nikolaus Bethlen de Bethlen "are assumed to move into Schloss Berleburg". Sounds like a lot of speculation to me, especially as they do not even live in Bad Laasphe and she is a younger daughter. But anyway, the family lawyer denied that they will and that Prince Gustav will continue to live at Schloss Berleburg.

Unfortunately, the article by "Westfalenpost" doesn't make clear what the alleged family dispute actually is about. As long as Prince Gustav doesn't marry, I see no reason why he would be disqualified based on the will. (Why it is difficult to repeal a will is answered in our previous post on the matter linked above.) Interestingly though, Prince Ludwig-Ferdinand wouldn't even be next in line if you go down the family line.

Prince Richard's own brother Prince Robin and his descendants would be disqualified based on the fact that they married non-nobles. 

Next would be Prince Bernhart of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein, who is actually one of the executors of the will. He meets all the publicly known criteria of the will and also has a son, who is yet unmarried and thus still eligible under the stipulation of the will (though that may change in the future). [Update: There have since been claims that the Hohenstein branch actually cannot inherit the Berleburg estates.]

Going further down the family line, the next possible heir would be Prince Otto-Ludwig of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. Both his sons, however, married non-noble women.

Then comes the aforementioned Prince Ludwig-Ferdinand, who has two sons. His older son likely wouldn't qualify as a possible heir as his wife may own/run a castle and is often described as noble but her "nobility" comes through her mother, a Baroness Schenk of Staufenberg. [Quick note: Legally there is no nobility in Germany and the former titles became the last name. At some point in her life Ludwig-Ferdinand's daughter-in-law took her mother's maiden name as her last name.] Ludwig-Ferdinand's younger son is yet unmarried. 

To round this off, two of the sons of Prince Hubertus of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg from his first marriage also still seem to the eligible to inherit.

So you can see that there are a bunch of heirs before the alleged heir in the article by "Westfalenpost". It goes to show that the author of the article likely didn't have too much knowledge about the family tree and may have mixed speculation with facts. While the family's lawyer confirmed some "dispute within the family", he did not confirm who the dispute is between. He also said, "it's not always easy to leave out emotions and stay technical". Whatever that means... Interesting to note though that there finally seems to be some developments regarding the will and whether at least some of its stipulations can be overturned. 

By law you usually only have one year to contest a will in Germany - it's possible that, because some parts of the will only come into effect now, a new time window for this has opened. In the meantime, all official mail of business partners must be addressed to the "Estate of Gustav Albrecht Fürst zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg", which seems to show that Prince Gustav - despite what was generally previously assumed - has not yet inherited the Berleburg estates even though his father doesn't seem to have been the actual owner of the estates either. As there currently are legal issues regarding the will, the will has not yet been executed and so currently nobody technically owns the family's estates that are estimated to be worth about 250 million euros.

And through it all the question remains what will happen to the Berleburg estates if Gustav dies without a direct heir. After all, it may just be possible that he draws up his own will giving the lands to the children of his sisters as we previously explained. A move the wider family probably would not appreciate. Or maybe they would like to pass over the heirless Gustav now to avoid paying inheritance taxes multiple times? After all, inheritance tax in Germany is 30 percent and so the family would need to cough up 75 million euros for the state, a sum they most likely don't have stashed  away somewhere in the attics of their castles... I guess time will tell.

Surely to be continued...

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