The death of either the Japanese spouse or the foreign national spouse in an international marriage inevitably involves inheritance issues. How the inheritance is handled varies depends on which spouse dies (i.e., the Japanese spouse or the foreign national spouse). This article explores the inheritance issues arising when the Japanese spouse dies.
When a Japanese national dies, who is a legal heir and what inheritance share they are entitled to is determined by Japan’s Civil Code. In short, depending on whether there are other legal heirs besides you, your inheritance share as a foreign spouse, will vary.
When the Deceased Japanese Spouse Has Children
If your deceased Japanese spouse has children, you, as the surviving spouse, and any children will be the legal heirs.
The children who will be the legal heirs are not limited to the children from your marriage with your Japanese spouse. If the deceased Japanese spouse has children by a previous marriage, those children will also be legal heirs. Even if you were not married to the Japanese father of your children, your children will still be legal heirs as long as their paternity has been legally acknowledged. Finally, if a child predeceases its Japanese father, any grandchildren of that child will become the legal heirs in the place of the deceased child.
In this case, you, as the surviving spouse, will be entitled to ½ of the inheritance and the remaining ½ will be divided equally among the children. For example, if you are a spouse and there are 2 children, your legal inheritance share will be ½ and each child will be entitled to a ¼ share.
When the Deceased Japanese Spouse Has No Children
When the deceased Japanese spouse has no children, the foreign surviving spouse and the parents of the deceased Japanese spouse will become the legal heirs. If the parents of the deceased Japanese spouse have already died, then any surviving grandparents will become the legal heirs (together with the foreign surviving spouse).
In this case, you, as the surviving spouse, are entitled to a 2/3 inheritance share and your parents-in-law are entitled to a 1/3 inheritance share.
For example, if you and your parents-in-law are the heirs, you would be entitled to a 2/3 inheritance share and they would be entitled to a 1/6 inheritance share each. However, if one of your parents-in-law died before the other, you would still be entitled to a 2/3 inheritance share and the sole surviving parent-in-law would be entitled to a 1/3 inheritance share.
In addition, if both the parents and grandparents of the deceased Japanese spouse have already died, you and your Japanese spouse's siblings will be the legal heirs. If your deceased Japanese spouse’s siblings have already died, then the children of your deceased spouse’s siblings will become the legal heirs. In other words, this means that even your nieces and nephews could be the legal heirs together with you.
The statutory inheritance would be divided with a 3/4 inheritance share to you and a 1/4 inheritance share to your Japanese spouse’s siblings.
What about the inheritance procedures?
In principle, inheritance procedures such as changing the registration of any real estate [to the new owner] or closing savings and other bank accounts should be done in cooperation with the other legal heirs. However, this is not the case if there is a will.
Inheritance procedures can be expected to go smoothly when there is a good relationship and cooperation between the surviving spouse and the children. However, this may not be the case when there are children from a previous marriage, in-laws or siblings.
Inheritance procedures in Japan will be explained in the next article.