The (In)Famous Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg Will, Round 3: When There Is An Estate Worth Half a Billion Up For Grabs, That's Apparently Where Cordial Family Relations End

Schloss Berleburg, the main residence of the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg family

...at least here on Confessions of a Castleholic, I'm sure it has been more rounds for the family. Just the other week I said over on Twitter that deposed royal families without their family disputes would only be half the fun - and one of the most intriguing family disputes within the German nobility has reared is ugly head again as of late: The inheritance dispute within the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg family. It is based on a will that was drawn up during the days of the Third Reich and includes some, well, racist, to say the least, stipulations. Yours truly still has a hard time to understand that someone would actually try to enforce those... Then again, there is an estate said to be worth about a half of a billion euros up for grabs - and that's probably where most friendships (or cordial family relations) end.


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 widely accepted that the will includes a stipulation that his heirs need to marry women, who are "Protestant", "aryan" and "noble". Prince Gustav Albrecht 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. His son, Prince Richard, married a woman who fulfilled these criteria, Princess Benedikte of Denmark, sister of Queen Margrethe II. He passed away in 2017. For many years prior to his death, it was actually publicly believed that Prince Richard was never actually the owner of the estate but passed over for tax purposes in favour of his son, Prince Gustav. The will and its stipulation made headlines every now and then over the past decade or two as it prevented him from marrying his long-time partner Carina Axelsson.

However, after the death of Prince Richard three years ago, it became apparent that things were perhaps even more complicated than previously thought. Sometime in 2018, newspapers started to report on a dispute between Prince Gustav, the designated heir, and a cousin of Prince Richard, Prince Ludwig-Ferdinand of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, who would be next in the line of inheritance. Soon after, the case started to occupy the courts. Prince Ludwig-Ferdinand filed a suit against his first cousin once removed alleging that he wasn't a qualified heir based on the stipulations of the will as he lived in a common law marriage with his partner Carina Axelsson. Naturally, Prince Gustav contested the lawsuit. 

While Prince Ludwig hasn't publicly spoken about his motivation, Prince Gustav said in a statement early last year, "Prince Ludwig-Ferdinand refers to a part of the will, that ties the remainderman to a number of stipulations, which includes, among others, that the wife of the heir's heir must be of noble descent and fulfill the admission standards of the German nobility association of the time of the Third Reich." (Quick historical note: The German nobility association introduced its own Aryan Paragraph which prevents non-Aryans from joining the association in 1920.)

If the term remainderman - or heir's heir - seems familiar to you from inheritance disputes within the German nobility: Congrats, you have probably heard about the Prussians and their lengthy court cases determining the headship of the house and the estate (though they were only about equal marriages and not Aryan-ness of the wives). If you know anything about the Prussians case, you know that the mills of the courts grind slowly and it can take a long time for there to be a decision.

Early last year, the case between Prince Gustav and Prince Ludwig-Ferdinand went to court for the first time. The matter of dispute: Who was allowed to receive the certificate of inheritance and thus become the owner of the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg estate, one of the largest within the German nobility. In May of 2019, local courts in Bad Berleburg decided in favour of Prince Gustav ruling that he qualified as the heir according to the will's stipulations. Soon afterwards, Prince Ludwig-Ferdinand lodged an appeal and the case went to the second instance. The court in Hamm scheduled the first hearing for July of this year, which means that we certainly haven't heard the last of it. 

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