With an ever increasing number of foreign nationals residing and making homes in Japan, the need for English-speaking legal professionals capable of advising and assisting the family and heirs of the Japanese assets of deceased foreign nationals has also increased. This is particularly true due to the complexity and potential pitfalls of inheritance procedures involving foreign nationals.
Shisho-shoshi Kobe Legal Partners has a long track record of representing Japanese and foreign national heirs of the assets of a deceased foreign nationals located in Japan. As a result, we are familiar with certain related risks and can assist you in taking measures to reduce these risks, leading to an overall cost and time savings.
Understanding the nature of the risks and the procedures involved is the first step in reducing risk and facilitating smooth inheritance procedures. We provide a brief summary below.
Inheritance Procedures for Deceased Foreign Nationals
Inheritance commences at the time of death of the deceased foreign national, and it is necessary to undertake inheritance procedures for the assets. At this stage, the inheritance procedures for Japanese assets of a deceased foreign national may seem very similar to the inheritance proceedings involving the Japanese assets of a deceased Japanese national.
The inheritance procedures involving the Japanese assets of a deceased foreign national may differ from those involving the Japanese assets of a deceased Japanese national in the following respects:
- Determination of which country’s laws apply to the inheritance (governing law)
- Determination of what documents need to be collected to prove the relationship of the heir to the deceased
- Lengthened time necessitated by translation and gathering of documents from abroad.
Although these factors may vary from case to case, they tend to complicate inheritance procedures involving foreign nationals.
Governing Law for Inheritance Procedures for a Foreign National
Although it is clear that Japanese laws apply when the deceased is a Japanese national, it is less clear which country’s laws apply if the deceased is a foreign national.
Determining which country’s laws apply to the inheritance of a deceased foreign national’s assets located in Japan requires careful research of the laws of the foreign national’s home country (or state in the case of the U.S.). Despite the development of the internet, this type of painstaking research is complex and time-consuming. In many some cases, we need to consult with legal professionals in the foreign national’s home country.
Without going into a highly technical discussion, suffice it to say that the laws of the deceased foreign national’s country will apply in some cases, while Japanese laws may apply in others. In short, the applicable law depends on the nationality of the deceased foreign national and the type of assets located in Japan.Further, in some cases, the applicable law may vary based on region or religion.
Documents Needed for Foreign Heirs
In the case of Japanese national, we use the family register to prove the relationship between the heir and the deceased. In addition, the family register is also used to prove:
- Death of the deceased
- Relationship between the deceased and the heir
- The absence of other heirs.
These same matters must also be proved by written evidence in inheritance procedures involving a deceased foreign national in Japan. However, if the home country of the deceased foreign national does not have a family register system like Japan, the heir’s relationship to the deceased must be proved with other documents. The type of documents that need to be collected will be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on, among other things, the family relationship. If documents need to be obtained from overseas, this may increase the complexity of the inheritance proceedings.
Further, due to the complex nature of inheritance procedures in involving a deceased foreign national, the procedures are likely to take significantly longer than those involving a Japanese national.
The most effective way to avoid a long, drawn out inheritance procedure is for the foreign national to prepare a written will in advance.
Foreign National as Heir of Japanese National
In certain cases, a foreign national may be the heir of a Japanese national family member. This most often occurs in international marriages when the Japanese national spouse dies.
In this scenario, the inheritance procedures are fairly straightforward since a Japanese national is involved. Since the family register evidences everything from birth to death, proving the relationship between the foreign heir and the Japanese deceased based on the family matter is an easy matter. The family register even proves the marital relationship because the country of origin of a spouse must be noted on the family register.
Deciphering the intricacies of the family register can be a daunting task. Therefore, consulting with a legal professional will facilitate a smooth procedure.