Lee would like to prepare a will in Japan and is not sure how to proceed:
“I have been living in Japan for the past 15 years and married for 12½ years to a Japanese national; we have two young children. My wife and I own a property, and my wife’s parents have lived with us for the past three years. We have a mortgage to a Japanese bank, covered by the standard ‘mortgage repayment insurance.’ In addition to some savings, my wife and I have life insurance cover with a Japanese insurance provider. I also have two daughters from a previous marriage who live in New Zealand.
“I see a will providing the minimum level of comfort that ensures my wife and sons (or my sons, if anything should happen to both my wife and I) will receive everything directly due to them. I have a current will in New Zealand that protects my daughters for assets including life cover and a New Zealand property. I am happy for my wife’s parents to remain living in our Japan property, but they are to have no claim on the title or any funds from the estate. I wish to appoint my oldest daughter in New Zealand, along with our sons’ godparents (who are Japan residents), as trustees of our estate.
“Would value your thoughts and possible guidance on how I can adequately safeguard my immediate family through a properly worded last will and testament.”
As we aren’t legal advisers or lawyers, we can’t offer you qualified advice in this particular area. However, there are several legal firms in Japan offering will preparation services and consultations in English.
Although a lawyer isn’t required for the preparation of a will, you may want to seek advice from one or more of the individuals and firms listed below, as they understand how the Japanese system works and can also help you address the fact that you have assets in two countries, which can complicate inheritance matters.
Timothy Langley of Langley Esquire, a legal firm in Tokyo, explains: “It is more than a linguistic challenge — the cultural challenges are much more daunting. The writing of a will and the formalities for certification are not difficult at all; it is what happens after the fact when true skill and experience are required.
“An added layer of complication is that a transition of this nature (death) involves assets changing hands (to the government, to the estate, to beneficiaries, and so on). As a result, there are many temptations — and believe me, if anyone is going to get the short end of the stick, it will be the out-of-Japan or mixed-blood relatives, regardless of what the law says.”
Tetsuya Iida of In Control Legal Support Services, another Tokyo-based firm, says that Japanese law typically considers inheritance to be governed by the laws of the deceased’s country of citizenship, but also notes: “If the law of her or his mother country states inheritance matters shall be governed by the law of her or his residence, the Japanese law shall apply. However, even when the law of her or his mother country governs the inheritance, Japanese law may still be applicable to the procedures or formalities of the will.
“Making a will in Japan might be better than doing so in your home country from a practical standpoint if most of your assets and inheritors are in Japan because of the Japanese Legal Affairs Bureau (who will register the change of ownership of properties), and Japanese banks may feel more comfortable proceeding with the inheritance if the will is made according to Japanese rules, which they are more familiar with.”
For legal advice and assistance in will preparation, you may want to contact one of the following attorneys or firms:
Tetsuya Iida can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone at (03) 5575-7808. In Control’s website can be found at legal-support.org/legalsupport/Welcome.html.
Wilf Wakely also offers will preparation services and is based in Tokyo. You can find more information about his services at www.tmi.gr.jp/english/foreign/wakely.html. Mr. Wakely can be contacted at email@example.com or (03) 6438-5678.
Yoshiya Ishimura and Sumito Nakahara offer their services in English through the Omotesando Sogo Law Office: www.oslaw.jp . You can contact Mr. Ishimura via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and Mr. Nakahara at email@example.com, or you can reach either by phone at (03) 6418-1888.
For those located in Kyushu, Otsuka Law is a firm based in Fukuoka offering various legal services, including will preparation. You can find more information on their website: www.otsukalaw.com.
If you know of additional Japan-based, English-speaking attorneys who specialize in will preparation, please let us know. Thanks to Jacques, Jim, Robert, Andrew, Ed, Jason (@goodpeoplejapan) and @sonness for their suggestions.