By ATOM Legal Professional Corporation English speaking lawyers in Japan

If you’re in Japan long enough to open a bank account, then creating a will is a smart decision to ensure your loved ones are taken care of according to your wishes in case the worst should happen. It can be a tricky process, however, if you are unfamiliar with Japanese inheritance rules. A common concern is how inheritance will be divided between co-heirs, especially if you are a foreigner living in Japan where you may not be fully aware of the legal processes. This article seeks to answer this question and ensure you have the most up-to-date knowledge concerning wills in Japan. Read on to equip yourself with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision.

If the decedent has Japanese nationality

In the case that the decedent is Japanese, unless prohibited by the will, the inheritance shall be divided by agreement. If no agreement is reached, the co-heirs shall petition the family court with a lawyer for division of the estate (Article 907.1 and 907.2 of the Civil Code).

If the decedent is a foreigner in Japan

If the decedent is a foreign national, the national inheritance laws of the decedent apply (Article 36 of the Act on General Rules). For example, when the national law of the decedent specifies that the national law of the country where the inherited property is located shall apply, and in the case that the property in question is located in Japan, then Japanese law shall be applicable.

When the national law differs depending on the location, such as in the United States where the law varies by state, the law designated by that country’s regulation… will be the party’s national law and when there are no such regulations, the law of the place which is the most closely related to the party will be the party’s national law (Article 38 of the Act on General Rules).

In the case that the decedent has more than one nationality, the Act on General Rules specifies that if either of those nationalities is Japanese nationality, the Japanese law will be the national law of the party (Article 38).

If an heir is also a foreigner, this shall not cause any hindrance concerning inheriting real property in Japan. Even if the foreign heir resides abroad, they are permitted to own real estate in Japan.

Division depending on relationship

Concerning the spouse who survives the decedent, there is a specific distribution of inheritance. When there are children, they will receive ½ of the inheritance while the spouse receives the other ½. When there are no children but the decedent has surviving parents, the spouse will receiveof the inheritance while the parents receive . Lastly, if the decedent has no children or parents surviving but has siblings, then the spouse will receive ¾ of the inheritance while the siblings receive the remaining ¼.

Reaching an agreement between co-heirs

The division of inherited property will sometimes be pre-determined in the will. If not, the co-heirs will need to collaborate to find a solution.

In this case, at first, the co-heirs will hold discussions to come to an agreement. If they can reach an agreement, they will decide the division of inheritance mutually. All parties must agree to the division, thus disagreements can and do occur. Co-heirs may at any time divide inherited property by agreement except in the case where this is prohibited by the decedent’s will.

If agreement is not, or cannot be, settled between co-heirs regarding division of inherited property, each of the co-heirs may appoint a lawyer and make an application to the family court for a division of the inherited property.

Conciliation at the family court

When co-heirs cannot reach an agreement by themselves, they can file a petition for conciliation at the family court. This conciliation procedure has the following advantages:

  • Commissioners and a judge will conduct the conciliation and facilitate the discussion between the co-heirs,
  • When co-heirs agree to a settlement, the court will make a document which has the same effect as the judgment of a lawsuit, and
  • The court’s charge is reasonable (1,200 yen per one co-heir).

Domestic relations trial (shinpan) at the family court

When the efforts to perform conciliation at the family court are unsuccessful, the next legal step is a domestic relations trial, called shinpan in Japanese, at the family court. In this case the family court judge will make the ultimate decision on the division of inherited property.

This page is intended to be used for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for obtaining professional legal advice.

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