When the owner of real property in Japan dies, the heirs have an obligation to change the names on the real property registration to indicate their ownership. 

Inheritance registration refers to the heirs’ obligation to change the name of the owner of land or building owned by the decedent to the names of the heirs who inherit the real property.

Since inheritance registration in Japan was not mandatory until now, inheritance registration usually has not been done. This has often resulted in the name of the deceased owner of the real property remaining on the real property registration rather than that of the heirs, which can create a confusion situation. In fact, this has become an issue that impacts society at large. To address this issue , it will be mandatory to do the procedures for an inheritance registration.

The obligation to register an inheritance must be made within 3 years of the commencement of inheritance. Failure to register an inheritance may result in penalties.

Why has inheritance registration become mandatory?

The land whose owner is unknown has become a social problem in Japan. The term “land whose owner is unknown” refers to a land whose owner cannot be immediately identified on the real property register, or, if known, whose owner cannot be contacted.

Due to the existence of land whose owner is unknown, various problems have arisen such as the inability to utilize the surrounding land (including the land itself) and the inability [of the government] to acquire such land for public works projects, such as disaster prevention. According to a recent national survey , the total area of land whose owner is unknown is said to exceed the entire area of Kyushu Prefecture, roughly 36,780 km²!

One of the main causes of land with unknown owners is that the inheritance by the heirs is not registered. Therefore, in order to address the issues related to land whose owners are known, the inheritance registration procedure has become mandatory.

When will inheritance registration become mandatory?

Inheritance registration will become mandatory as of April 1, 2024.

After the inheritance registration requirement comes into effect on and from April 1, 2024, the inheritance registration must be done within three years of the date when the heirs become aware of the commencement of the inheritance and become aware of their rights with respect to the real property.  

The knowledge of the commencement of an inheritance for yourself is the date on you learn that the owner of the real property has died and that you are an heir to that real property. Merely becoming an heir is not enough. You must also register the inheritance within three years from the date when you knew that you acquired the real property by inheritance.

For example, if you were unaware of the existence of the real property itself, you can register the inheritance within three years from the date you learned of the existence of the real estate.

It should also be noted that inheritances that started before inheritance registration becomes mandatory are also subject to the inheritance registration requirement. In such cases, the inheritance must be registered within three years from April 1, 2024.

Are there any exceptions to the mandatory registration of inheritance for foreigners or those outside of Japan?

There are no special exceptions for foreign nationals or persons outside Japan with regard to the mandatory registration of inheritance. In other words, if a foreign national, who owns real property in Japan , dies  an application for registration of inheritance must be filed within three years even if the foreign national is the heir and the parties are outside Japan .

Penalties for not registering an inheritance.

Once the registration of inheritance becomes mandatory, failure to take the procedures for registering the inheritance within three years without justifiable reason is punishable by a non-criminal fine of up to ¥100,000. However, just because 3 years have elapsed does not necessarily mean that the penalty will not apply immediately after three years have elapsed. If, for any reason, 3 years actually have passed, it would be good idea to consult with a judicial scrivener to avoid panicking!

Consultation with a Shiho-Shoshi Lawyer about the inheritance registration of real property

After the registration of inheritance becomes mandatory, the inheritance registration must be made within the stipulated deadline.

However, there are only a few Shiho-shoshi law offices that are capable of handling inheritances involving foreign nationals, and quite often, many judicial offices turn down inheritance cases simply because a foreign national is involved. For example, in some cases the decedent is a foreign national and in other cases one or more of the heirs is a foreign national. Often, the reason why many Shiho-shoshi lawyer offices turn down cases involving a foreign national is the necessity of researching foreign inheritance laws and their lack of familiarity with the documents that need to be prepared.

Our office is a Shiho-shoshi law office that specializes in, among other matters, inheritance-related issues. We have provided legal consultations to heirs who are foreign nationals, many of whose cases were turned down by other Shiho-shoshi law offices! Some of our clients ended up at our door after being rejected by more than 20 other Shiho-shoshi law offices. 

We also advise foreign law firms on Japanese inheritance matters, including inheritance registration, such as cases where a foreign national has died or the heir is outside Japan. Over the years, we have created a network of foreign professionals such as lawyer, translators, and accountants who provide invaluable advice and services.

Kobe Legal Partners would be more than happy to provide experienced advice on the inheritance registration of real estate in Japan.

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