Introduction: The law regulating the area of succession and inheritance in Israel is called the Succession Law, 5725- 1965 (the “Law”)....
Just as sorting out your assets is important at any age, writing your Last Will & Testament (hereinafter: "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 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. Writing up a will can be a good opportunity to get even with someone or to acknowledge their good deeds…
According to the Inheritance Law (5725-1965), 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.
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.
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.
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.
Have I managed to convince you to write your will? Great! Here are a few important things you should know when drafting your will:
Before you write your will it is important to make sure you include all the details you want to be carried out after you pass away. This should include:
A detailed list of all the money and/or assets you have, 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 executer of the will. The executer should be someone you trust, who is capable of sorting out your estate and making sure your will is carried out.
2. 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.
3. 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 Inheritance 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 other half 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 2/3of 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, you probably would like to leave a dynasty without it becoming a soap opera….
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.