We strongly recommend creating a notarized will if you’re considering leaving behind a last will and testament in Japan. You can look at our blog on the subject here.
However, a handwritten will is also an option that you can pursue. All you need is a writing utensil and some paper, but there are some rules that you need to follow.
In this blog we will review the basics of holographic wills in Japan. Please be aware that it is expected the law will be revised in the near future. We will make further updates to this blog after the new changes are introduced.
What doesn’t matter
- The language. However, a Japanese translation will become necessary upon execution of the will if you write it in a foreign language such as English.
- What kind of paper you write it on.
- Whether you use a pencil or pen. Of course, using a pen is a better idea as it minimizes the chance of tampering.
- Whether or not it’s sealed in an envelope.
Rules to follow when making a holographic will (do’s)
- You must include the exact date it was written, as well as your full legal name.
- It has to be written in its entirety in your own handwriting, including the list of assets. No one can write it for you and it can’t have been written on a computer, or by video or audio recording.
- The will must include your personal seal / stamp. Although it’s best to use a registered inkan personal seal, any kind will do and you can even use your fingerprint. If you are a foreigner living overseas and you do not have a stamp, you can sign using your signature.
- If you seal it in an envelope, the testator should affix their seal (or signature) to the sealed part of the envelope.
- Additions, changes, and removals must be done in a specific way. If you don’t follow the format described in the Civil Code then the change will not be effective. If you make two valid wills, the conflicting parts of the more recent version invalidate the previous will.
Things to be avoided when making a holographic will (don’ts)
- Don’t combine two wills into one
Although joint wills may be common back in your home country, they are not valid in Japan. You cannot make a will together with your spouse.
- Don’t write the will in a vague way
If you write “I leave my house to my daughter”, you haven’t clarified the parcel number of the land/building number of the house or the full legal name of your daughter. This means that when your daughter takes the will to the Legal Affairs Bureau to transfer ownership, they may not be able to process it without additional documents.
- Don’t keep the will somewhere risky
It’s up to you where you want to keep the will, but remember it needs to be found on your death or it will be assumed not to exist.
Also we advise that you do not store the will in a Japanese safety deposit box. While it might sound like a good idea, this will create a “Catch-22” where your heirs need to open the safety deposit box to get the will, but your heirs need the will to be validated before they are allowed to open the safety deposit box. It is technically possible to open it without a will, but it takes a lot of time and effort on behalf of the heirs and this therefore highly discouraged.
- Don’t open the will before going to court
If you find a handwritten will sealed in an envelope, DO NOT OPEN IT!
If you open it before taking it to be confirmed by the family court you may be fined up to 50,000 yen. It’s important to note that the act of unsealing a will does not make the will invalid.
As mentioned above, there are many rules to be followed when making a holographic will. Be aware that there are other factors to take into account when making the will beyond what we have written here. Even if you do your research and follow all of the rules, there remains the risk this type of will be lost, destroyed or found to be too ambiguous to be deemed valid. That is why Legacy Tomodachi recommends creating a notarized will with a legal professional, especially if you have a complicated estate or you own real estate property.