Inheritance Procedures When a Foreign Spouse Dies Without a Will

Under Japan’s inheritance procedures, if a foreign national dies, the issue of which country's laws will apply must be addressed. As explained in an earlier article, it is necessary to check the law of the deceased’s home country, which puts a heavy burden on the surviving family members to research the laws of a foreign county from Japan.

In addition to that, when a foreign national dies, which documents need to be prepared for the inheritance procedures poses a more daunting challenge for surviving members than is the case when a Japanese national dies.

Is there a will? Who are the heirs? Are there any other heirs?

If the deceased dies without leaving a will, the inheritance process becomes considerably more difficult. The same is also true when there is a will, but the will cannot be used in Japan.

In the case of an intestate succession (i.e., there is no will), the Japanese procedures require proof of the deceased’s death, the relationship between the deceased and his or her heirs, and that there are no other heirs. If the deceased is Japanese, these matters can be easily proved by submitting a copy of the deceased’s family register from birth to death and a copy of the heirs' family registers. Even if the spouse is a foreign national, this is not a problem because the spouse’s name is noted as a marital item in the deceased’s Japanese family register.

However, this is not the case in the intestate succession of foreign nationals who have not left a will.

First of all, the death of the foreign spouse can be easily proved with the foreign spouse’s residence card on which the death will be noted or with a death certificate. In addition, the relationship between the heirs and the deceased can be proved with a copy of the family register if the heirs are Japanese. Even if the heirs are foreign nationals, their relationship to the deceased can be proved with marriage certificates or a child’s birth certificate. However, the real difficulty is proving that no other heirs exist.

Proof that no other heirs exist, would mean, for example, that the heirs of a deceased who has 2 children must prove that the deceased in fact had no other children besides these 2 children. Except for Japan and Taiwan, which each has a family register system, Korea is the only country where this can be proved officially.

Then, the next thing that needs to be done is to move ahead with the inheritance procedures while consulting with the various entities and other places where documents must be submitted. For example, to change the name of the owner of real estate, documents must be prepared for submission to the Legal Affairs Bureau. Similarly, for procedures for financial institution, documents will need to be prepared for submission for each financial institution. If the required documents are different, you will have to prepare them each time, which will make the inheritance procedures longer.

The best way by far to avoid this inconvenience is to make a will.

Kobe Legal Partners Shihoshoshi Law Office has significant experience handling inheritance procedures and prepared wills for numerous clients from various countries. Please do not hesitate to let us know if we can provide you with advice.

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