Natural person

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A natural person or physical person is the person in his role as a legal subject , i.e. H. as a bearer of rights and obligations . In contrast to the natural person, the legal person stands , often used synonymously for corporations , associations and societies .


Natural person is a legal term that is used, for example, in the German Civil Code (in § 13 BGB and in § 1897 Paragraph 1 BGB). The Commercial Code (HGB) uses it exclusively to differentiate between legal persons , for example if no natural person is liable as a partner in a company ( Section 125a (1) HGB). Natural and legal persons together make up the generic term “ persons” .

In earlier legal systems , such as those of Roman law , there were people who were not legal subjects and therefore not persons according to today's understanding. These included slaves and those family members who were subject to the power of the head of the family ( Latin pater familias ). Legally , these people had the status of things . Specifically, they belonged to the transfer cases ( Latin res mancipi , land , slaves, draft and pack animals as well as field easements ), while all other things were considered fungible things ( Latin res nec mancipi ).

Similar effects were still in the modern era of Klostertod and death commoners .

Legal regulation in Germany

Legal subjects such as the natural person have the ability to bear rights and obligations; they have legal capacity . The point in time when this legal capacity begins and when it ends is controversial in jurisprudence and jurisprudence .

Beginning of legal capacity

With the completion of his / her birth a person becomes legally competent ( § 1 BGB). Under certain circumstances, legal capacity is also faked . Even an unborn person ( nasciturus ) can become an heir ( Section 1923, Paragraph 2 BGB). Thus the existence of rights (and also duties) of the Nasciturus is legally recognized. The Federal Court of Justice has so far left the legal question of whether he does not have to be legally competent , but promised a positive answer. The literature on the other hand almost unanimously assumes a partial legal capacity. This means that the Nasciturus is only granted legal capacity where it has been proven that legal positions have been granted to him (see also § 823 Paragraph 1 and § 1963 BGB). From Section 331 (2), Section 2108 or Section 2178 of the German Civil Code (BGB) it can be deduced that the Nasciturus is equated with the other legal subjects in the law of obligations, property and inheritance in any case insofar as it is an acquisition of rights in his favor. The German Civil Code (BGB) grants the Nasciturus , who are not fully legal, essential rights that are based on the condition of the later live birth. The question of whether the nasciturus can already have rights before birth and possibly from the beginning of pregnancy , in particular a right to life, is highly controversial . This is particularly important with regard to abortion and stem cell research as well as related research areas.

End of legal capacity

Humans lose their legal capacity with death . In contrast to his birth, the end of legal capacity is not directly standardized by law. Then the question arises, however, when death is complete . For this, lawyers have to fall back on the state of medical research. When the BGB came into force (on January 1, 1900), it could still be assumed that death would occur with the cessation of circulation and breathing . Today, from a medical point of view, death is not understood as a punctual event, but rather as the end of a process, whereby individual body functions can be retained, although vital organs such as the heart or brain have become inoperable. The Transplantation Act (TPG) of November 1997 provides assistance with two death options, which contain fixed criteria for determining the time of death and thus also for determining the end of legal capacity. Primarily this is brain death and secondarily cardiac death .

According to one doctrine, however, the dead should remain legally competent under certain conditions. This is discussed above all in connection with the so-called post - mortem right of personality . According to the Federal Constitutional Court , the post-mortem ideal (i.e. non-material) right of personality is derived solely from Article 1 of the Basic Law .

Classification as a legal subject

Natural person
Legal person
under public law [ +/− ]


Local authority
Personal corporation
Association body
Real corporation
Legal person
under private law [ +/− ]

Legal foundation

Registered cooperative
Registered association
Old legal association
Mutual insurance association
Investment stock corporation
REIT public company
Company with limited liability
Limited partnership based on shares
Entrepreneurial company (limited liability)
Society under civil law
Limited partnership
Open trading company
Partnership company
Partner shipping company
silent Society
embryo Nasciturus
Nondum conceptus
Community of property
Community of heirs
Homeowners Association


From the negative formulation of the second half-sentence chosen in § 13 BGB it becomes clear that legal transactions of a natural person are basically to be regarded as consumer behavior ; Any remaining doubts as to which sphere the specific action is to be assigned to are to be decided in favor of consumer properties.

International regulations

In Austria , the legal capacity of natural persons is regulated in a similar way, namely in § 18 ABGB , with regard to the Nasciturus in § 22 ABGB and § 23 ABGB. The legal capacity of natural persons in Switzerland is defined in Art. 31 ZGB, that of the Nasciturus in Art. 544 ZGB .

The regulations for natural persons, which are mostly used to distinguish them from things or legal persons, also apply in Anglo-Saxon law ( English natural person ) and in French-oriented legal systems ( French personne naturelle ). In the Netherlands there is the same legal term ( Dutch natuurlijk persoon ).

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heinrich Honsell : Römisches Recht , 2015, p. 15.
  2. Michael E. Zeising: The Nasciturus in civil proceedings 2004, p. 18 with further sources.
  3. Beck OK-BGB / Bamberger, § 1, Rn. 26, 29, 39, 40 with further references.
  4. Dieter Medicus : General part of the BGB. 2010, p. 431.
  5. BVerfG, decision of April 5, 2001, Az. 1 BvR 932/94, full text = NJW 2001, 2957, 2959.
  6. BGH , judgment of September 30, 2009, Az. VIII ZR 7/09, full text = NJW NJW 2009, 3780.
  7. Art. 11 ZGB.
  8. Art. 544 ZGB.