Creating a Will in Japan

leaving a will in japan1.Types of Wills in Japan

When making a will in Japan, it is important to follow the specific format prescribed by the Japanese Civil Code. Failure to do so may invalidate the will. The Civil Code outlines seven forms of wills, but the two most commonly used are the “Handwritten (Holograph) Will” and the “Notarized Will”.

i) Handwritten Will (Holograph Will)

This form of will comes into effect when the testator personally handwrites the complete text of the will, including the date and their name, and affixes their seal (hanko) to it. A change in the law in 2019 permitted the use of a computer to create and print certain sections of the will, particularly the list of assets.

The advantages of a “Handwritten Will” include:
– No need for witnesses or observers
– Simplicity and cost effectiveness

However, there are also disadvantages:
– Vulnerability to loss, forgery, and alteration
– Risk of invalidity due to errors in form
– Potential for family disputes over the interpretation of language in the will
– Must be handwritten

ii) Notarized will

A notarized will requires the testator to visit the office of a notary (“Koushounin” in Japanese). It involves two or more witnesses, with a notary overseeing the process and recording the will. A copy of the will is retained in the notary’s office, making it the safest and most reliable option.

Creating a notarized will typically incurs a cost depending on the value of the assets to be included in the will. However, this method carries minimal risk of family disputes, often outweighing the additional expense. In fact, notarized wills are approximately six times more prevalent than handwritten wills in Japan. In general, a notaized will is considered superior to a handwritten will.

For these reasons, we usually recommend creating a notarized will for those considering making a will in Japan.

2. Distinction between Wills and “Statutory Inheritance (Legal Portion)”

We occasionally receive inquiries such as:

“My Japanese husband left a will leaving all his assets to our first-born son, but I believe I have the right to half because I am his wife.”

When the deceased individual is a Japanese citizen, Article 900 of the Civil Code provides that the wife is entitled to half of the inheritance. However, this article applies only in the absence of a will. Inheritances subject to Article 900 are referred to as “statutory inheritances”. In this case, since there is a will, Article 900 does not apply.

However, it may be possible for the wife to claim a portion of the husband’s assets under the article on “Iryubun” (legally reserved portion) in the Civil Code. In the scenario described, the wife is entitled to one-fourth, calculated as follows:

1/2 (legal inheritance) ×1/2 (legally reserved portion rate) = 1/4 (legally reserved portion)

3. Wills for Foreign Residents (English translation)

Foreign residents in Japan can also make wills. If you are a foreign resident with assets (such as bank accounts and real estate) in Japan, it is advisable to consider making a will in Japan. This will make it much easier for your heirs to navigate the Japanese legal inheritance procedures. The absence of a will can lead to numerous challenges. It is strongly recommended that you have your will notarized at a public notary office (koushou-yakuba).

A notarized document in Japan must be written in Japanese (this is required by law), but an English translation can be attached. If the inheritance is international and the beneficiaries do not understand Japanese, it is recommended that an English translation be attached. In cooperation with the notary public, we have experience in preparing wills with English translations attached for many foreigners.

4. General Costs for Creating a Will

If you choose to have an attorney draft your will, the typical costs are as follows (please note that these amounts are for reference only and may vary depending on your circumstances):

Simple Wills (e.g., only bank accounts and a real estate, one legatee)

Attorney Fee
(Consumption tax will be added.)
Drafting a Will150,000 yen
English translation40,000 yen
Coordination and attendance (as an interpreter) at the notary public office (Notary Office at Kawasaki station)30,000 yen
Total220,000 yen
English translations are not mandatory. If an English language statement is not required, there is no charge for it.
Fees for notary public are not included. See below.

Other Wills (Non-simple Wills)

For wills with complex contents or large amounts of property, a fee estimate will be provided after a legal consultation. The general fee structure for drafting a will is as follows. English translation and notary fees are the same as for Simple Wills.

Total value of the assets to be listedAttorney Fee
(Consumption tax will be added.)
Less than 3,000,000 yen200,000 yen
3,000,000 yen to 30,000,000 yen1.0% of the value + 170,000 yen
30,000,000 yen to 300,000,000 yen0.3% of the value + 380,000 yen
Over 300,000,000 yen0.1% of the value + 980,000 yen
Fees for notary public are not included. See below.

Cost for Notarization (at the Notary Public office)

Typically ranges between 20,000 yen to 200,000 yen, depending on the value of the assets and the number of heirs. If you request the notary public to make arrangements for (two) witnesses, you will also need to pay an honorarium of approximately 5,000 yen per witness (the amount varies by location).

See this page for general information.
Cost for Creating a NOTARY DEED WILL

Related pages