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Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011
Writing a will can take the uncertainty out of inheritance
Reader BM is worried about the inheritance of his house:
"I am half-owner of my house and my two children own the other half. If I die, my half will be divided between my kids and my (second) wife. Thus, my kids will own three-quarters of the house and my wife will own a quarter.
"When my wife dies, will her quarter go to my kids or will it go to her relatives?"
Inheritance in Japan depends on various factors, including the laws of your home country and whether or not you have prepared a will (either in Japan or your mother country).
Tetsuya Iida of In Control Legal Support Services explains: "Basically, the inheritance law of the mother country shall apply to the decision of the inheritance ratio among inheritors when they are a non-Japanese citizen, according to Japanese private international law.
"Therefore, if the law of his mother country stipulates the inheritance ratio of his real estate, the ratio shall be decided by the law of his mother country.
"However, some countries' laws stipulate the inheritance of real estate overseas shall be governed by the local law of the location of the real estate, and there is a chance that the inheritance of his asset could be governed by Japanese law."
So, in this case, says Mr. Iida, if Japanese law does apply and you have not prepared a will, if you pass away before your wife — and your wife is the mother of your children — then your wife's quarter will go to your children, not her relatives, when she dies.
In your wife's case, Mr. Iida says, "If his wife is a Japanese citizen, the Japanese law shall apply to her inheritance, and on the assumption that she did not make a will, her quarter shall be divided evenly by her children and never go to her relatives."
If your wife is not a Japanese citizen, the general rules mentioned above that would apply to you would also apply to her.
However, both Mr. Iida and Timothy Langley of Langley Esquire stress the importance of having a will in cases such as yours (and many other situations) to avoid potential problems.
"It is advisable to make his/her will (based upon either his/her mother country's law or Japanese law) to clarify the inheritance ratio to avoid future inheritance problems," Iida says.
Mr. Langley adds: "These laws go up and down generations. So it starts with the surviving spouse and surviving kids but it does not stop there. Parents, if still alive, often get a piece, as do siblings, grandchildren, etc. It is all very precisely defined — but again only in the instance when the deceased passed without a will.
"If the person is wise enough to have created a proper will under Japanese law, what they own can be distributed (must be distributed) according to their properly executed will."
For more information and resources regarding inheritance and will preparation, please read our July 26 column, "Where there's the will for a will, there's a way" (www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20110726at.html)
Tetsuya Iida can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (03) 5575-7808. You can also visit In Control's website at www.legal-support.org/legalsupport/Welcome.html.