We’ve answered some Frequently Asked Questions to help you begin gathering the information you’ll need to make an informed decision about your future.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
There are four types of wills that are legally valid and binding in Israel.
- A hand-written will, signed by you.
- A death-bed will which is a declaration made by you when you are near death.
- A will which is drawn up (usually by an attorney) dated and signed by two witnesses.
- A will that is spoken in front of an authority, like a judge, where your wishes are made clear.
Wills may not be honored if they don’t comply with the rules.
There are two ways to address the challenge of holding assets in Israel and your home country, regarding a will. While a single will is valid in both countries, it also has to be processed in both countries. This involves translating it into Hebrew and having it notarized and validated before it can be executed in Israel. This could add many months and additional cost to your beneficiaries before they receive their inheritance. We recommend writing two wills that can be submitted simultaneously, after you pass away, one in your home country and one in Israel, thus reducing the waiting time and the fees.
When your written will states that you are leaving everything to your spouse who in turn will leave the assets to your children, it’s called a ירושה אחרי יורש or ‘an inheritor after an inheritor.’ This can be a problem under Israeli law. If a spouse inherits in this way, they may be able to use the assets in a way you didn’t intend. There are a number of ways to avoid this problem. a) You can give the asset directly to the children but stipulate (as with a family home) that the surviving spouse may stay in the home until their death. b) A ‘monetary agreement’ can be entered in the courts that anchors the will. In the event that the surviving spouse tries to misuse the funds, the children will get what was originally intended for them. It’s important to speak to an experienced attorney to help you set up your estate.
I’m often asked by clients if they have to leave all their money to their kids or are they legally allowed to leave some money elsewhere. The law in Israel is that you have the right to leave your money to whomever you choose. This is not to say a family member won’t be able to challenge your will, especially if they were left out entirely, without explanation. There are challenges with the dynamics of a second family (with kids from both) or a special-needs child who may require support payments. It’s imperative that you consult an experienced attorney for things to go according to your wishes after you pass away.
Two people (usually spouses or partners) who have the same goals for their assets when they pass away, can ensure with a Joint Will, that in the event of changing circumstances, their wishes will be protected.
The terms of one will, depends on the terms of the other. So, in the case of a falling out between the spouses while they are both living, neither can change the will without the other’s approval. Even after one of them passes away the other spouse cannot cancel the deceased spouse’s wishes and that remaining portion, must be returned to the estate before the terms of the will can be challenged. This is one of the tools available to ensure the fulfillment of your intentions regarding your assets.
If a person is married when they pass away, their spouse or significant other gets half their assets and their children get the other half, divided equally. If there are no children the spouse inherits everything. If there is no spouse the children inherit it all. When there are no children or a spouse the parents of the deceased get everything. With no parents, it all goes to siblings. This covers more than 75% of the population.
Even though, in general, all wills are honored in Israel, an informal handwritten will or one prepared by an unqualified attorney may be subject to challenge because of a number of details. Unclear language, illegible handwriting or missing dates may make it possible for someone to contest your will’s validity, resulting in your money going to someone to whom you didn’t intend. That’s why you need a seasoned attorney to help you with the preparation of your will.
Even though your will is valid without submitting it to the Registrar’s Office, we advise our clients to do so for a number of reasons. 1) It helps expedite the probate of your will because it’s registered under your identity number (teudat zehut). 2) It’s protected from being mislaid or damaged. 3) The fact that you were the one who submitted it to the Registrar of Wills Office makes a strong case that it’s the copy that will be honored.
If all your assets are outside of Israel, generally your will prepared there is enough. But if you hold assets in Israel as well, including household items and personal valuables, you should have an additional Israeli will. All wills go through probate and the process differs between countries. With assets in two countries and a will from only one, your beneficiaries will have to wait for their Israeli inheritance until the foreign will has been processed in Israel. And they will incur additional costs for translations and notarizations as well as a risk that the foreign probate might not be honored in Israel. We therefore recommend two wills be drawn up, each representing the assets in their respective countries.
You wish to give your married kids a monetary gift, or help your child and their spouse buy a home in Israel. There are a number of ways to ensure that in the event of a divorce, your child gets to keep your gift because in Israel, divorcing couples are legally required to split their assets 50/50. a) Write up a formal financial agreement, signed and approved in court. b) Create a loan agreement whereby your child’s spouse would be obligated to pay back their portion of the loan. c) You keep partial ownership of the property. We can combine any of these options as well as many others to suit your individual needs.
Unfortunately, it has happened in Israel, that a surviving spouse has lost their house to an estranged child in an embittered lawsuit demanding the selling of the property. Unlike in some western countries where one spouse automatically gets the house when the other dies, here in Israel each spouse owns half. Consequently, the surviving children own equal parts of the half of the house that belongs to the deceased spouse and they can demand to be bought out or that the house be sold to the highest bidder. We highly recommend that you have an estate plan and wills in place so that everyone knows what will happen when you pass away.
We’ve put together a video library for your convenience, containing short explanations of some of the important issues faced by seniors from western countries who reside in Israel.