Succession under a Will
A Will is the most certain way of ensuring the distribution of the estate in accordance with the wishes of the deceased. The Law in Israel recognizes four different types of Wills, in respect of which the Succession Cases Registrar in the Ministry of Justice is charged with their implementation.
What is a Will?
A Will is a written declaration, which constitutes a legal document, and governs division of the property of a person after his death. Israeli Law recognizes four types of Wills - a handwritten Will, a Will made in the presence of witnesses, a Will executed before an authority, and a verbal Will, but does not prescribe specific provisions for the manner in which the Will is to be drawn up. The Will may relate to all property that a person had at the time of his death, and may include precise instructions and conditions for its implementation and division of such property, and on the other hand the Will may be couched in general terms and only set out general guidelines for its implementation. Furthermore, there is no limit to the number of Wills that a person may leave after him, but the latest valid Will is the one that is proved and revokes Wills that preceded it. This means that the latest Will is the one that is conclusive in any situation.
In what circumstances is it advisable to make a Will?
- Common Law partners: It is advisable to make a Will in order to avoid possible argument concerning the status of the surviving Common Law partner.
- Division of the inheritance: In cases in which the Testator wishes to bequeath specific shares of his estate to his relatives, to persons who are not his relatives or to corporate bodies, outside the provisions of the Succession Law.
- Rights to property: In cases in which it is necessary to govern rights to the use of property after the death of the Testator.
- Divorced, or separated spouses, and single parent families: The Succession Law does not govern the rights of succession in these cases.
- An elderly childless spouse and of an age at which he/she will apparently not have any children in the future.
- A spouse married for the second time and each of the children of the spouse have their own children.
Types of Will
- Israeli Law recognizes several types of Will.
- A handwritten Will: Written entirely by the Testator and signed with his handwritten signature. Under Section 19 of the Succession Law it shall bear the date on which it was made also in the Testator's handwriting.
- A Will in the presence of witnesses: Made in writing and bearing a date, signed by the Testator in the presence of two witnesses. Under Section 20 of the Succession Law, the Testator must declare in the presence of the witnesses that this is his Will and the witnesses shall thereupon attest their signatures upon the Will that the Testator has made the declaration and has signed the Will. 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. It is recommended that at least one of the witnesses shall be a lawyer who specializes in the drawing up of Wills, in order to avoid errors being made by the Testator which might, after his death, lead to the invalidation of the Will.
- A Will made before an Authority: Under Section 22 of the Succession Law a Will before an Authority is a Will whose provisions are stated orally before it is read out to the Testator by the person in authority, and at the end of which there is a declaration signed and certified by such person in authority on the date that the Will is made and to the effect that it was made by the Testator.
- An Oral Will: Known also as a "Deathbed Will". Under Section 23 of the Succession Law this possibility only arises in cases in which the Testator is on his deathbed, or views himself as being in such a situation. An Oral Will must be made before two witnesses who understand the Testator's language and they must record the contents and the Testator's instruction in a memorandum, and the date and the circumstances in which the Will was made. Thereafter the Will must be deposited with the Succession Cases Registrar. An Oral Will becomes void if the Testator is still alive on the expiration of one month after the circumstances which warranted its making have changed and the Testator is still alive.
Who can inherit under a Will?
A person can make a bequest in a Will also to children who are born within 300 days of the date of his death. If the Testator so states explicitly in his Will, he may also bequeath his property to corporate bodies, and in such a case the persons who are entitled to the assets of such a corporate body are those who are entitled to benefit from the assets of the estate which such corporation has inherited.
A person who has been convicted in a criminal proceeding of involvement in the death of the Testator or in an attempt to cause his death cannot inherit from him even if the Testator has mentioned him in his 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 attempting to do any of the above, may not inherit.
Errors occurring in the writing of a Will
- Handwritten: Handwritten Wills cannot be printed with the addition of a handwritten signature. The whole Will must be in the handwriting of the Testator only. In any other case the Will is invalid.
- Presence of the beneficiaries: A person who the Testator wishes to be recorded as a beneficiary under his Will cannot be present when the Will is written or take an active part, either directly or indirectly, in its preparation.
- It is always possible to change a Will: Even if the Testator states explicitly in a Will that no changes are to be made in it in the future, this condition is deemed to be unlawful.
- Medical expert opinion: If the person making the Will is an elderly person or is sick, it is advisable to attach a medical expert opinion that determines that he is fit to make the Will, in order to avoid claims as to lack of legal capacity of the Testator, undue influence and other claims that might lead to the Will be invalidated.
- Unreasonable conditions: It is permissible to impose conditions for the distribution of the property to the heirs as long as they are considered to be reasonable and enforceable. For example it is possible to make it a condition that the inheritance will pass to the Testator's children only after they reach a certain age, but it is not possible to impose a condition on the inheritance to the effect that they should move to reside in a certain place, for example.
Minors: It is advisable to appoint somebody with responsibility for an estate, the heirs to which are considered to be minors by Law. Minors cannot write a Will themselves because the Law only recognizes the Wills of persons aged 18 and upwards.
How is a Will written?
When making a handwritten Will it is important to record the following details:
- At the top of the Will the date of writing it must be recorded and the title heading "Will".
- Details of the Testator: His full name, address, and his Identity Card Number.
- Details of the heirs: Their full names, addresses and any other detail that will assist in their certain identification.
- Manner of division of the property: In clear handwriting, unequivocal and making sense, avoiding the use of negative language. It is important to detail as far as is possible all the assets included in the estate and the division of them as between the heirs.
- Economic and family background that will constitute evidence as to the fitness of the Testator to make the Will.
- Signature of the Will in the Testator's handwriting.
It is important to bear in mind: The whole of the Will must be written in the Testator's handwriting.
Will Form on the Rabbinical Courts website
Deposit of a Will
The deposit of a Will in the Office of the Succession Cases Registrar ensures that following the death of the Testator no Succession Order or Probate Order will be issued that disregards the Will that has been lodged. A person wishing to deposit a Will must attend personally at the Office of the Succession Cases Registrar in the area in which he lives, with the original Will, Identity Card and a voucher in respect of the payment prescribed in the Regulations. The Will is kept in a safe, and only the Testator himself can retrieve it up to the date of his death. Only after the death of the Testator, is it possible to clarify information concerning Wills that have been deposited. A Death Certificate in respect of the Testator must be forwarded to the Office of the Registrar by fax or in the mail together with a detailed explanation of the relationship to the deceased of the person seeking such information.
For additional information:
List of Offices of the Succession Cases Registrar
Guide to obtaining a Death Certificate
Application for probate of a Will in the Rabbinical Courts
Application for probate of a Will to the Succession Cases Registrar
Form of Will on the website of the Rabbinical Courts
Information page for persons submitting an application for probate
Succession Cases Registrar fees
Fees under the "Shariya" Courts Succession Regulations