Writing Your Will in Mexico
Learn about inheritance law in Mexico and find out how to prepare a Mexican will…
There is no legal requirement to have a will in Mexico.
Property, bank accounts, and insurance policies can be left to beneficiaries named in the individual policy or contract. For example in a property deed (fideicomiso), beneficiaries and alternative beneficiaries can be named within the deed. In cases like these assets will be automatically transferred to beneficiaries without the need for a will or probate.
For assets without designated beneficiaries a will should be drawn up. The person who makes a will is called a testator/testatrix. In the absence of a will (intestate), inheritance will be decided by the civil courts:
- There is no law in Mexico on 'right of survivorship' which automatically transfers all assets to a surviving spouse. Instead the estate will be divided equally between the surviving spouse, all of the deceased's children (including those from previous marriages) and any surviving parents of the deceased.
- In Mexico City, the surviving spouse can be denied any inheritance at all. This happens if their existing assets are greater than - or equal to - the share of the estate that will be inherited by the children
Wills can simplify the probate process. Probate involves appraising, managing and distributing the estate’s assets. When a will is in place a notary will oversee the probate process and the courts are not involved unless the heirs are minors or the will is being challenged.
Without a will probate will be handled by the courts. The courts will freeze access to assets including property and bank accounts until inheritance distribution has been decided. Guardians for minor children are also court-appointed in the absence of a will.
Are wills from other countries valid in Mexico?
Foreign wills are valid in Mexico. As with any foreign legal document, non-Mexican wills must have an apostille stamp (if the country has signed the Apostille Convention) or legalized then officially translated into Spanish.
- For more information on apostilles and legalization, see How To Get a Foreign Document Legalized
Types of wills
Any one of sound mind who is 16 or older may have a will. Wills in Mexico are drafted or authenticated by notaries (except in emergency circumstances - see Private Wills below). Lawyers can be executors to a will but may not draft them. Wills must be in Spanish.
There are a number of different kinds of wills in Mexico. The most common forms used in Mexico City (CDMX - Ciudad de México) are:
The testator speaks with a notary, telling them what they want included in their will. Written statements may be prepared in English, but will need to be translated into Spanish, in which case two official translators are used. The notary then prepares the document which is read aloud to the testator. Witnesses are not required except in special circumstances.
This document is then signed by all parties and contains details such as the time and place of its creation, the details of the notary, and the details of witnesses if any. It is registered by the notary with the State Notarial Archives. All of the original documents are kept in the notary’s ledger, and the testator is issued a certified copy of the will. For non-Spanish speakers, a hand-written copy and its translation can be attached to the record.
This type of will is the most commonly used because it is presumed to be valid by the Courts without having to call witnesses.
These will are written by hand by the testator, who must sign each page. The document is placed in a sealed envelope and presented to a notary in the presence of 3 witnesses. All parties sign the envelope confirming that it is the last will and testament of the testator. The envelope can either be left with the notary or kept by the testator; a record of the envelope will be entered into the notary’s ledger.
English-speakers considering this option should be aware that documents written in English will have to be translated into Spanish after a testator’s death. A closed public will should be as simple and clear as possible to avoid misinterpretation.
Private will are only used in an accident or other emergency situation and their validity is limited. If there is a clear need for urgency five witnesses are needed for the will to be legal (three in some circumstances). The will is more likely to be accepted by the courts if it is in writing, and signed by the testator. If the testator survives the emergency situation then the private will is considered invalid.
- There is no estate tax (inheritance tax) in Mexico; generally the only expenses will be related to legal fees, appraisal feels and transfer taxes
- Mexican wills may not be amended by codicils; any changes of intent will require a new will
- Certain people/groups are not allowed to inherit: people who are already dead, people found guilty of crimes against the deceased, guardians of the deceased (in certain circumstances), doctors who treated the deceased prior to the death (unless they are one of the usual types of heir like a child of the deceased), the notary who prepared the will, witnesses to a will (unless they are legal heirs), and churches or religious organizations
September is Will Month (Mes del Testamento), and notaries reduce their fees by up to 50% to encourage people to have wills prepared
- See a list of official translators in Mexico City in the Angloinfo Business Directory
See a list of English-speaking notaries in Mexico City in the Angloinfo Business Directory
- Search a directory of notaries by delegation and colonia on the website of the Colegio de Notarios del Distrito Federal (website in Spanish)
- Arrange a free consultation on the Colegio’s website (in Spanish)