My father passed away on June 23, 2011. Since that time I have returned to Athens to take care of the “klyromotika,” translated to “the inheritance businesses.” The state of Greece makes such a bureaucratic mess of someone’s death that it literally can drive the living to their own grave. It has been a nightmare. I spent six weeks two years ago trying to figure out the crazy carousel of paperwork. I visited the tax office, the ministry of health, IKA, the ministry of the interior, the central Athens registry probably two or three times each. This is just a brief synopsis of the type of rigamarole:
-show proof of “blood relationship” by standing in long line in the Athens National registry for issuance of official family document (This piece of paper is needed to show that there is kinship for the direct heirs of the inheritance
-before that paper, however, a death certificate has to be issued and registered with the same registry
-go to local tax authority to have a “clearance” form issued to guarantee that the deceased does not owe any back taxes (Between death and taxes, taxes come first, because the State always gets priority and is the first to take a dip from the estate)
-heirs must also get a “katharistiko” a clearance paper that shows they too do not owe any back taxes to the state because if they do, then the State gets dibs on their estate
-because Greece follows the British legal system, it is not enough to deal with a lawyer during these events; one must also contract a “symbouliografo,” a counselor, someone who drafts the legal paperwork that goes along with each and every piece of paper (my friends, there are many, many pieces of paper)
-the solicitor must make a show before the magistrate that the will is indeed lawful and binding and get a clearance paper to show that it is executionable (Given that these procedures took place in the summer when the courts and most places of business draw to a halt for summer holiday, the entire month of August Athens is a ghost town, this took close to five months
-once the will is executionable, new deeds must be drawn up based on the stipulations of the will and each in turn must be signed and delivered
-power of attorney must be created for the lawyer to act on each of the heir’s behalf during the procedure
-new deeds must be registered in the National Deed office in person. This usually means one has to fill in a petition or application just to get the paper one is looking for and that can take weeks to process
Needless to say, this can take over a year to finalize. In fact, it is now the third year and I still have yet to register property on the island my father left me property. Apparently, someone did not pay the appropriate filing fees (I forgot to mention that with each piece of paper filed or petitioned comes with some sort of administrative fee or “stamp” which ranges from 50 cents to 5 euros) and the papers were lost in the shuffle between the solicitor’s office and the deed registry.
I called the “symbouliografo” inquiring about the whereabouts of the paperwork. “I sent it out but there was a back and forth due to non-payment,” she told me curtly (very busy woman), “ask the lawyer or your relative.” I called the lawyer; she was vacationing on the coast. “I do not have the papers,” she told me curtly (vacation is a serious business in Greece), “Try calling the symbouliografo or your uncle.” I called my uncle as a last resort. “I do not have the papers,” he answered from the top of some peak he was climbing on Mt. Olympus. “Try calling the contact-creator and pleading politely that she give you the papers again.” I called her back again and she said, “I would be happy to give you copies of the deed from my archives but you have to show that your father has declared the property for the last two tax years.”
“Kuria Petraki,” I told her, “you must forgive me, (that’s the polite way of taking the blame for the other person’s stupidity in Greece), my father is dead.” Only in Greece must the dead still file and pay taxes on properties that have not changed hands yet. So, off to the tax office I go to start the procedure again because with so many heads involved, stubborn and controlling heads at that, not a lot gets done.
Step one is always the tax department as nothing happens unless you present the “all-clear” the “katharistiko” or the “clean up” sheet that shows you are clean and white with the State. I went to the tax office for Greeks registered as foreign residents today. Luckily there were only three people ahead of me. (That’s because the lady that slipped out of the elevator with me cut in front. Greeks have absolutely no line manners.) When I explained to the clerk that I lived in the “exoteriko” “abroad, and that I needed my “clean papers” to register the property in my name, he gave me an application, two copies of the same application in fact, and told me to fill them out.
“My Greek is not the best, especially my written Greek,” I told him. He just nodded and went on speaking to the other customer who had butted in while I was fiddling around to find my FMH or tax number in my purse taking advantage of the lull in the conversation.
I was supposed to fill out the form with details from the apartment I lived in that were not even specified on the form. Things like year of construction, number of metric square feet, and even the building code number for the property. How the hell would I know all this information and how the hell would I have known that they needed it on the form? Luckily the guy helped me out by telling me what to write. When I filled the petition in duplicate and brought it back to the window, he took it and wrote a number on a square little white piece of paper barking for “telefono” as the tax office would call me to come and pick up the form when it was ready. Apparently, this “protocolo” was the little paper that was to get me the bigger official paper. When I asked him how long it would take for the paper to be ready, he chumly responded, “It’s OK, go on your holidays, take a few baths in the sea and then call us.”
“How long?” I ventured , “Two weeks?”
“Maybe three weeks or four. We get 50 petitions a day here,” he responded.
“Four weeks!” I cried clutching my hand to my heart, “I can’t wait that long. We have to go back to work and we live abroad.”
“Oh that’s what you all say,” was his response. “I hear this all the time. You people wait till the last minute to do your papers and everyone has to get back.”
Unbelievable! It’s my fault that it takes the tax department for Greek living abroad so long to process 50 petitions a day. Even with the upgrades in technology, it will not change the Greek character.
“Welcome to Elladistan,” the poor contractor painting the apartment commiserated when I told him the story.
I’ve given up trying to change the car from my father’s name to mine because apparently it’s his wife, the first in line, that inherits it. Unfortunately, his wife, my mother, has never driven a day in her life and neither will she. How is she supposed to get it transferred in her name first so that she can then register it in mine when she lives 3,000 miles away and can barely push herself on the “P” and the “bastouni”? I have resorted to using underhanded ways just to escape from the eternal bureaucracy that tangles you in red tape till you are asphyixiating. This is how I think most people in Greece try to deal with the bureaucracy, by concocting all sorts of methods to circumvent and shortcut it.
Maybe by next summer I will have finished with the paperwork. Anathema to anyone whose relatives die in Greece, especially during the summer.