Is a sworn interpreter required at the notary in Germany?

Is a sworn interpreter required at the notary in Germany?

Buying real estate, concluding a marriage contract or founding a company requires notarization of the relevant documents. Only then do they have legal effect. If one of the parties is unfamiliar with the German language, an interpreter might become necessary. Who can be commissioned by the client for this task?

When and for what purpose is an interpreter assigned to an appointment at the notary's office?

The notarization confirms the effectiveness of legal transactions, be it a company formation, a will, a marriage contract or a real estate purchase contract. If one of the parties to the legal transaction is not sufficiently fluent in German from their or the notary's point of view, an interpreter should be appointed in accordance with Section 16 of the Beurkundungsgesetz (German Notarization Act) of the Federal Republic of Germany. The procedure for notarization in Germany is strictly prescribed: The notary has to read out the document step by step in the German language and the interpreter then reproduces consecutively in the client's language what has been read out or uses the written text to do so.

In contrast to a certified translation, an interpreter at the notary's office is supposed to ensure that the client is informed on the content and legal consequences as stated in the German document. For this purpose, not only the document but also the communication between the parties and the notary is interpreted.

Who may act as interpreter at the notary in Germany?

Many clients who need an interpreter for the English or any other language for an appointment at the notary's are concerned with the question of whether a sworn interpreter must be employed. According to Sec. 16 of the Beurkundungsgesetz, any person who has sufficient command of the foreign language and the German language and who is not directly related to the parties to the legal transaction (spouses, children, etc.), can be asked to interpret in Germany. The person consulted can be sworn in by the notary for the duration of the transaction itself – unless all parties involved renounce this. In addition, notaries themselves can take on the role of interpreters, if they sufficiently master the relevant (e.g. English) language.

Hence it is not legally required that a professional German-English interpreter is assigned for the appointment at the notary's office. Some clients use this as an excuse to involve their acquaintances or relatives without any qualification certificates as interpreters. However, the hope of not having to pay for the English interpreter makes clients in some cases lose even more money and time.

Consequences of not using professional interpreters

It is no secret that notarial contracts are quite complicated and sometimes incomprehensible even to native speakers. The notarization of German notarial contracts is subject to certain formal requirements. The legal contents are usually not obvious to anyone without legal knowledge and call for a detailed explanation. Unfortunately, when lay interpreters are involved, the content is often transferred incorrectly or incomplete. At the notary's office, it is particularly important for the client to be informed about the legal consequences of the notarization in order to avoid the costs of a possible lawsuit as well as other serious complications.

Imagine a hypothetical situation where a woman who does not speak German is taken to the notary by her newlywed husband to sign a marriage contract. The husband renounces the help of a professional English interpreter and invites an acquaintance who claims to speak both languages. The wife, being unfamiliar with the German legal system and German customs, does not realize that the marriage contract is not a formality, but a binding document.

Let's assume that the wife could not completely understand what is behind the terms "Güterstand" (matrimonial property regime, "Versorgungsunterhalt" (statutory equalization of pension benefit rights) or "nachehelicher Unterhalt" (post-marriage maintenance) and what consequences their change in the prenuptial agreement may have on her future. Maybe the acquaintance has even omitted some parts in her interpretation in order to cope with the highly complex text more quickly. Or suppose that the spouse was lost in dreaming about the upcoming honeymoon – at the expense of her full attention.

In a few years, disputes arise between the spouses and the wife wants to divorce. In the consultation with her lawyer, she realizes that the signed prenuptial agreement means a serious financial detriment to her. So she tries to challenge the contract, pleading the interpreter's incompetence and stating that the acquaintance was not a professional interpreter and had rendered the legal terms incorrectly and incompletely. The German court will reject the challenge on the said point that the law does not specify precise requirements for the interpreter's profile and clients are not protected against the consequences of poor interpreting performance.

Unfortunately, the same is true for other contracts: In Germany it is extremely difficult (almost impossible in practice) to prove an interpreter's incompetence or professional unsuitability afterwards in order to declare the notarial deed null and void.

Contribution of a professional German interpreter

For you as a client or for your notary, it is largely impossible to objectively assess the language skills of a German-English interpreter in both languages. The proof of professional aptitude and interpreting quality is provided by diplomas, degree certificates or a swearing-in in the form of a certificate of appointment.

Apart from the proven linguistic competence, professional interpreters are thoroughly prepared for each individual assignment, although the preparation time is not always remunerated. Moreover, professional interpreters are bound to confidentiality and to faithful and conscientious translation.

In the above case, a professional German-English interpreter would be fundamental in ensuring that the client is not harmed in the course of legal transaction due to poor language skills, level of education, cultural discrepancies or differences in legal systems. A professional interpreter would make sure that all information communicated is fully and truthfully rendered and understood by the client. Simply asking a question such as "Do you understand what exactly is meant by the term „Verzicht auf nachehelicher Unterhalt“ could motivate the client to participate more in the process and even ask the notary for simplified explanations.

What must be kept in mind about notary interpreting?

To provide a good interpreting service for the German, English or any other language, even the most experienced interpreters need preparation materials for use. You assist your interpreter best by providing them with a draft of the document prior to the notary appointment. Alternatively, the interpreter may contact the German notary directly to obtain the draft and clarify details of the interpreting procedure.

Notaries and professional interpreters want to help you understand the complex legal content that appears in the document. Therefore, you should not be ashamed to ask questions when necessary to avoid misunderstandings and ambiguities.

Engaging an English interpreter in the German notary's office requires a sufficient amount of time. Notaries are used to read out their documents very quickly, and few people can follow their speed. If you assume that he or she can read out one page per minute, you should expect a significantly higher expenditure of time when using an interpreter. A rough guide is about one and a half to two hours per 10 pages of the notary contract. This is in no way related to the possibly slow interpretation. Rather, the notary will volunteer for explaining some passages from the contract. Furthermore, in most cases there are questions on the part of the contracting parties that need to be answered by the notary and conveyed by the interpreter in English at a pace acceptable to the clients.

Hiring competent and reliable professional interpreters for German, Englisch and other languages

As a client, you have the right to the best possible assistance from a trained and qualified interpreter - without any unpleasant surprises!

At AP Fachübersetzungen from Nuremberg, we support you with publicly appointed and sworn interpreters for any language combination who have completed their interpreting studies and have many years of experience in the legal field. Read the statements of our satisfied customers on the interpreting services of our interpreting and translation agency and convince yourself by their enthusiasm about our commitment and reliability.