When a foreigner dies in Japan without leaving a will, it creates a heavy burden for the surviving family members who will have to undertake the inheritance procedures in Japan. This is due to the necessity of researching foreign laws to determine which country’s laws will apply as well as the likelihood that the documents required for procedures at various governmental entities and financial institutions may be quite different.
Having said that, merely having a will is not enough. Just because a will made in a foreign country based on the laws of that foreign country may be a valid in that particularly country does not necessarily mean that it will be valid in Japan. For example, even if a trust that is created in a will and is valid under the trust laws of a certain foreign country, the details of the that same trust may not be consistent with Japan’s trust laws. The result in such cases is that the (foreign-created) trust may not be able to engage in procedures involving financial assets, such as changing in the title/owernship to real property and deposit accounts.
Therefore, if you write a will in a foreign country under foreign law, you need to consider whether the content would be viable in Japan, which makes the writing a will even more challenging.
The best approach is to make a will in Japan covering your Japanese assets. That way, there is no risk of writing a will that is not viable in Japan.
How to write a will in Japan
When writing a will in Japan, we recommend that you use a notarized will. Quite simply, a notarized will is extremely unlikely to be invalidated, and, further, when undertaking inheritance procedures in Japan, a notarized will is almost never rejected by a government office or a financial institution.
A notarized will is made by a notary public at the notary public’s office.
When making a notarized will, as a general matter, you will first obtain legal advice from a legal professional such as a shihoshoshi lawyer (judicial scrivener) or a bengoshi lawyer. The legal professional will listen to your thoughts about what you want your will to look like and will give you legal advice. After that, you will meet with a notary public who will prepare a written will for you.
Once the notary has completed a draft of your will, you and two witnesses will go to the notary public’s office and sign the will in front of the notary public to finalize your will. Since the witnesses for this purpose cannot be heirs or the recipient of property under the will, in general, the judicial scrivener or lawyer with whom you consulted initially can be your witness. Since the will prepared by the notary public is in Japanese, an interpreter can be arranged if you are not confident in your Japanese language skills.
Kobe Legal Partners Shihoshoshi Law Office has provided legal advices to numerous foreign nationals from various countries about the preparation of a will in Japan. Please do not hesitate to contact Kobe Legal Partners for advice about making your will.