Just as sorting out your assets is important at any age, writing your Last Will & Testament (hereinafter: the "will") is just as essential. People tend to think that writing a will is something that older and/or richer people should do. This is a common mistake. Obviously we would all like to live until 120 AT LEAST and thus control our assets ourselves, but since that is not realistic, writing a will can be your second best option. By writing a will you can control what happens to your property and possessions when you are no longer among the living (which sometimes can be just as comforting…), and the best way to make sure your assets are passed on exactly as you wish.
In addition, you would probably like to know that your family continues to get along in harmony and in peace even after you pass away. Writing a will which leaves very clear and precise instructions as to how you want your assets to be distributed can avoid future dispute between successors.
You are entitled to bequeath inheritance to nearly anyone you want in a will. In the absence of one, your assets will be distributed according to the inheritance laws rather than according to your personal wishes. Therefore, writing up a will can also be a good opportunity to get even with someone or to acknowledge their good deeds.
There is no limit to the number of wills that you can write and leave behind, but the latest valid will is the one executed and it will revoke all other wills that precede it.
According to the Succession Law 5725-1965, (hereinafter: “the Law”), there are four acceptable forms of wills:
A handwritten will made by the testator (the writer of the will) bearing a date and his signature. Please take note that the entire will needs to be handwritten in order to qualify and be valid as a handwritten will. Handwritten wills cannot be printed with the addition of only a handwritten signature.
A will signed and dated by the testator in the presence of two witnesses. The testator needs to declare before them that this is his will, to sign and date it. The witnesses need to confirm that the testator signed the will in their presence. The will may be handwritten or printed, but the signatures must be in the handwriting of the testator and the witnesses, and they must sign on the date of the making of the will and not on a later date.
A will made before an authority. The authority may be a Court Registrar, Judge, Notary, Inheritance Registrar or a "Dayan" of an official Rabbinical Court. The testator appears before one of these and verbally expresses his will. The will is then written by the authority and read before the testator. The testator declares in writing that this is his will and the authority will then sign and confirm that the will was read before the testator and declared as above.
An oral will also known as a deathbed will. If the testator believes he's facing death, he may verbally express his will, in front of two witnesses. The witnesses will then have to submit a memo of the instructions, together with the date it was instructed and the relevant circumstances, to the Inheritance Registrar as soon as possible. However, an oral will becomes void after a month if the circumstances that justified it no longer exist and the testator is still alive.
A few important things one should know when drafting a will:
A testator can make a bequest in a will also to children who are born within 300 days after the date of his/her death.
A person who has been convicted in a criminal proceeding for being somehow involved in the death of the testator or in an attempt to cause his/her death cannot inherit from him/her even if mentioned in the will. Additionally, a person who has a criminal conviction for concealing the last will of the testator, of forging a will, of claiming succession under a forged will or for attempting to do any of the above, may not inherit.
Any person that the testator intends to bequeath in his will cannot be present or take any active role, at the time of its preparation.
If the testator is elderly or sick, it is worthwhile attaching a medical expert opinion that determines that the testator is fit to make the will, in order to avoid potential claims that might invalidate the will such as lack of legal capacity.
Note that money in a life insurance policy and pension plans will pass on to the people designated in those policies/plans with or without a will.
Before writing a will it is important to make sure one includes any specific details that he/she is interested to being carried out after his/her passing. This should include:
A detailed list of all the money and/or assets you own, including saving and pension accounts;
Who you want to include (or exclude) in your will;
Who should look after your children until they reach 18;
It is important to nominate an executor of the will. The executor should be someone you trust, who is capable of sorting out your estate and making sure your will is carried out;
Discuss your estate plan with loved ones so that there are no surprises or disputes after you’re gone.
The Israeli law allows for writing a will In English. In fact, according to the Inheritance Regulations, English has an advantage over other languages and a notarized translation into Hebrew is not needed. Please note that the court and the registrar dealing with the application have the authority to request such a translation;
In a situation where you have assets in Israel as well as abroad, it is recommended to prepare a separate will for each country, making sure the laws and regulations of each one are applied. Probating the two wills will be much simpler that way since they will be executed in accordance with the laws of each relevant jurisdiction.
In absence of a will the Law determines the successors. Here are just a few examples:
If the deceased was married and had children, grandchildren or parents (hereinafter "first degree heirs"), the surviving spouse is entitled to receive the tangible personal property, the family car, and half of the estate. The remaining balance is distributed among the first degree heirs.
If the deceased was only survived by siblings or their heirs, or by grandparents (hereinafter "second degree heirs") the surviving spouse is entitled to 2/3 of the estate. But, if the surviving spouse and the deceased were married for at least three years prior to the death, and they lived together in a property which is an asset of the estate, the surviving spouse is entitled to all of the rights of the deceased in that property and 2/3 of the remainder of the estate.
If the deceased was survived by his spouse alone, he/she inherits the full estate.
In the absence of any living relatives, the State of Israel inherits the estate.
Although it is possible to write a will by yourself, it is advisable to seek legal advice in order to ensure that you are following all the legal formalities needed for your will to be valid and that it is written in a clear enough way in order to avoid family disputes in the future. After all, isn’t your peace of mind in the afterlife worth it?
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and is not a substitute for legal consultation. Specific legal advice should be sought in accordance with the particular circumstances. This article has been updated from a
previous version that was written for Hacohen Wolf Law Offices.