Making a will in Japan
Although there are seven forms of wills provided for in the Japanese Civil Code, two are commonly used — the “holograph (handwritten) will” and “notary deed will”; additionally, there is the “will by sealed and notarized document”. You must follow the prescribed form specified by the Japanese Civil Code when making a will or else it will not be considered valid (Article 960, Civil Code). It is recommended to make the will in Japanese, whether by yourself or with the help of an English-speaking lawyer.
According to Japanese inheritance law, a will shall be valid so long as it complies with any of the following laws (Article 2, Act on the Law Applicable to the Form of Wills):
- the law of the place where the act was performed (lex loci actus);
- the law of the country where the testator had nationality, either at the time he/she made the will or at the time of his/her death;
- the law of the place where the testator had domicile, either at the time he/she made the will or at the time of his/her death;
- the law of the place where the testator had habitual residence, either at the time he/she made the will or at the time of his/her death; or
- in the case of a will concerning real property, the law of the place where the real property is located.
Holograph (Handwritten) Will
The holograph will must be completed by the testator (the person making the will) by fully handwriting the will and writing the date, his/her name, and adding his/her personal stamp (hanko). For this type of will, no witnesses or observers are required to be present. It is the most simple form of will to complete, and it is more cost effective than other forms.
However, some risks include loss, forgery or falsification, or the risk of being invalid due to mistakes in the will’s form. There could also be disagreements among family members as to the wording in the will and how to interpret the expressions. These reasons cause the holograph will to be a less popular option in Japan.
Notary Deed Will
For this will, the testator must attend a notary office (kōshō-yakuba) and two or more witnesses must be present. The notary shall conduct a hearing in which the testator will orally dictate the will to the notary, then the notary will allow the testator and witnesses to inspect the will. The notary will create the will and keep a copy at the notary’s office, which makes this method highly secure and reliable. This form of will costs much more than a holograph will, but it has several benefits as well. The most valuable benefit is that this form of will is not likely to cause disagreements among family members concerning the will’s wording or expressions. Many people find this benefit outweighs the extra cost of creating a notary deed will. This makes it the much more popular option in Japan.
If you are a foreigner in Japan
It is possible for foreigners to create wills in Japan.
Without a will, it can be very difficult for the heirs of foreigners in Japan to access assets, even money from bank accounts, so creating a Japanese will is advisable to ease the process of dealing with the Japanese procedures concerning your assets in the event of your passing.
Furthermore, most would advise that you have the will notarized. Otherwise, your heirs will be required to have the will confirmed by a judge in the Japanese family court. Having an English-speaking lawyer by your side will also help since it is crucial for wills in Japan to be written or orally dictated in Japanese.
If you have assets outside of Japan, it is advisable to create two wills – one for your home country and one for Japan. If relying solely on a will created in your home country, aside from running the risk of the will being contested, it will put a great burden on your heirs to translate all the documents and carry out the administrative tasks necessary to validate the documents.
Note that, however, if you create two wills they must be mutually exclusive. This means there must not be any overlap in the assets provided for in each will. You do not want to run the risk of one will superseding the other, thereby making the former will invalid.
This page is intended to be used for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for obtaining professional legal advice.