Leaving a Will (Testament) in Japan

leaving a will in japan1.Forms for making a will in Japan

When you make a will, you need to follow a form specified by Japanese Civil Code. If you do not, the will will be invalid. There are seven forms of wills which are specified in the Civil Code, however two of them are commonly used: ‘Holograph (Handwritten) will’ and ‘Notary Deed will’.

i) Handwritten Will (Holograph WILL)

This type of will takes effect when the testator handwrites the full text of the will, the date, and the name all by himself, and stamps the seal (hanko) on it.

Advantages of ‘Holograph will’ are:
— Witnesses and observers are not required
— Easy and economic

However, there are also disadvantages:
— Risk of loss, forgery and falsification
— Risk of being invalid because of mistakes in form
— Risk of family quarrels over the meaning of expressions in the will
— You have to write it by yourself (printed documents are not allowed).

ii) Notary Deed will

A will in which a testator should attend one of the offices of notaries (“Koushounin” in Japanese.). It should be done with two (or more) witnesses, and a notary conducts a hearing and makes a will. A copy of the will is kept in the notary’s office, so it is the safest and the most reliable way.

‘Notary Deed will’ costs several thousand yen or more (not including attorney’s fee). However, it poses little risk of family quarrels, and usually the advantage exceeds the disadvantage of the extra cost. In fact, ‘Notary Deed will’ is used about six times as much as ‘handwrittenwill’ in Japan. Generally speaking, ‘Notary Deed will’ is superior to ‘Holograph will’.

With the above reasons, we usually recommend to use ‘Notary Deed will’ to those who consider making a will in Japan.

2. The difference between wills and “statutory inheritance (legal portion)”

We sometimes receive the questions such as

My Japanese husband left a will, and it says that he leaves all of his assets to our first-born son, but I believe that I have the right to get the half of them because I am his wife.

When the deceased person is a Japanese national, it is correct that Article 900 of Civil Code says the wife’s share in inheritance shall be one half. However, this article is applied only when there is no will left. Inheritances to which Article 900 applies are called ‘statutory inheritance’. In this case, because there is a will, Article 900 is not applied.

However, it may be possible for the wife to receive some share from the husband’s assets. The article about “Iryubun” (legally reserved portion) is in the Civil Code.  For the case written above, the wife has the right for 1/4, calculated as follows;

1/2 (Statutory inheritance) ×1/2 (Rate of Statutory reserved share) = 1/4 (Statutory reserved share)

3. Will by foreign residents

Foreign residents can also make a will in Japan.

If you are a foreign resident, and have assets (such as bank accounts, real estates) in Japan, it is worth considering leaving a will in Japan. It will be much easier for your heirs to handle Japanese procedures with a Japanese will. If there is no will left, there may be a lot of difficulties, even for just getting money from bank accounts. Also, it is strongly advised to get the will notarized at the public notary office (koushou-yakuba). If the will is not notarized, then the heir will have to bring the will to Japanese family court, to get it checked by a judge.

4. General Costs for making a will

* Consumption Tax (Shouhizei) is not included in the following amount.

You can write a will by yourself, but it is recommended to make it in Japanese language, in order to let your heirs handle the procedures in Japan smoothly. If you ask the attorney to create the will, the general cost is as follows (The amounts are for reference. It may be different depending on situation).

 Simple wills (such as only for bank accounts in Japan)

Value of the property Attorney Fee
Less than 3,000,000 yen 150,000 yen
3,000,000 yen to 30,000,000 yen 200,000 yen
30,000,000 yen to 300,000,000 yen 250,000 yen
Over 300,000,000 yen 300,000 yen

Other wills

Value of the property Attorney Fee
Less than 3,000,000 yen 300,000 yen
3,000,000 yen to 30,000,000 yen 1% of the value + 270,000 yen
30,000,000 yen to 300,000,000 yen 0.3% of the value + 480,000 yen
Over 300,000,000 yen 0.1% of the value + 1,080,000 yen

The Japanese Will will be made in Japanese language. If you need English translation, additional fee will be charged (10,000 yen / 400 words).

Cost for Notarization (at the Public Notary office)

Usually between 30,000 yen – 100,000 yen depending on the value of the assets and the number of heirs.

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