Effective July 10, 2020, Japanese law will permit individuals who have executed a hand-written (or “holographic”) will to file that will with the Legal Affairs Bureau for safekeeping until their death. The system, which is also available to foreigners and is set forth in the Act concerning the Storage of Wills at the Legal Affairs Bureau, will allow heirs and beneficiaries to (i) confirm whether a will has been filed with the Legal Affairs Bureau, (ii) request a copy of a filed will, and (iii) view a copy of a filed will at an office of the Legal Affairs Bureau following the death of the decedent. An individual who has filed a will may revoke or replace the will freely at any time prior to death.
The new system is meant to help prevent the loss, destruction or tampering with of wills and minimize disputes related to the same. Under the new system, heirs and beneficiaries to a filed will will be notified when another heir or beneficiary requests or views a copy of the filed will. Wills filed under the system will also not need to go through probate, which should speed the process of distributing assets.
One point of concern with the new system is that wills filed with the Legal Affairs Bureau will not receive the close review they would receive if filed with a notary public as a notarized will. There are currently three types of wills permitted under Japanese law, and a will must conform with the strict rules of at least one of those types to be valid. The acceptance of a will by the Legal Affairs Bureau is not an acknowledgement that the will is valid, and therefore if a will is challenged, found invalid and no other valid will exists, the deceased will be deemed to have died intestate and the intestate laws of Japan may determine the division of assets, not the provisions set forth in the will.
Also, although the new system is intended to provide safekeeping for the final binding will of the filing individual, the filing of a will will not invalidate a newer, valid non-filed will under Japanese law. Individuals making use of the system should therefore be aware that any new will created after filing may supersede the will they have filed with the Legal Affairs Bureau.
* This client alert is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Copyright Jackson Sogo. All rights reserved.