Leaving a Will in Japan

Find out about the different types of Japanese wills, how to designate assets in Japan, and ways of writing a will in a foreign language...

Those who have been naturalised (kika) in Japan may leave a will in the same manner as native citizens. According to Japanese law, there are three ways in which to leave a written will, either in Japanese or another language:

  1. Notarial deed will (kousei-syosyo-igon)
  2. Self-written will (jihitsu-syosyo-igon)
  3. Secret will (himitsu-syosyo-igon)

Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Way

Advantages Disadvantages
Notarial deed will Clear statements without the risk of loss, forgery or alteration Costs of interpretation etc. according to the legacy
Self-written will Easier and less costly to prepare Risk of loss, forgery or alteration
Secret will Secrecy Complicated procedures with costs for interpretation, etc.

To write a will in a foreign language using the first method, the testator makes a statement by word of mouth in the presence of a notary with two witnesses and an interpreter standing by. When the notary has finished taking notes, they will read it aloud or let the testator check the contents via the interpreter before making them into a certified written will.

The second means of leaving a will in a foreign language is for the testator to write it themselves, without legal assistance. The date, time, and testator’s name and signature must be included.

The third mode is the certified secret will, in which the testator makes the written statement on their own in a foreign language, or has someone else do so on their behalf. The testator puts their signature and seal on the written will, puts it into a sealed envelope and signs the envelope. The secret will can then be certified by a notary with two witnesses. In this manner, the will can be prepared in a foreign language, but an interpreter will be needed when having the notary and the two witnesses certify the will.

Designating Successors

In a will, testators can designate anyone as a successor of their assets, even people who are not one of his or her legal heirs under Japanese law. The designated person needs to determine whether to accept or renounce the right to succeed and formally report to the relevant authority within three months, as legal heirs need to. If the designated person does not decide to consent or renounce within three months, Japanese law considers it to be simple (not limited) consent.

In a will, testators can also freely allocate shares of their inheritance to each successor, such as leaving all assets to only one person, leaving equal portions to each successor, or any division the testator chooses - in principle. However, primary successors (spouse and children) and secondary successors (parents) have the right to claim their minimum legal share of the inheritance. The minimum legal share for primary successors is a half of the total assets, and for secondary successors it is one third of the total assets.

Further Information

These are the very basics of inheritance in Japan. However, there are many more stipulations regarding inheritance under Japanese law, international law and the laws of foreign countries to take into consideration in each individual case.

Therefore, I would recommend that all those who need to prepare their estate or go through inheritance procedures consult an experienced professional in the field.

  • For more information in on inheritance law in Japan: Click here
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