Inheritance law in Israel is governed by the Succession Law of 1965 (‘Succession Law’), and is handled by the Israeli Inheritance Registrar. According to the law, a person’s estate passes on to his or her heirs upon death. This may happen in one of two ways: by will or by law. This article will focus on some key issues regarding inheritance by will and probate in Israel. See “Succession Law in Israel – Inheritance by Law” for a detailed explanation of inheritance by law in Israel.
The fundamental principle of inheritance is that a person is free to distribute his or her property as they see fit. Therefore, the succession law is contingent on the existence of a will. A valid will overrides the default stipulations of the law regarding the identity of the heirs and the distribution of the estate. A valid will may even annul an existing succession order (for instance, in cases where the will was uncovered only after the succession order was granted).
A will is the expression of a person’s wishes regarding his affairs upon his death. It is not necessarily limited to property alone, although the issue of property is central. It is a binding legal document. Concerning property, a will may be extremely specific, detailing distinct instructions regarding one’s property and heirs. It may also be general, outlining only the general boundaries to its execution.
A will is not subject to obsolescence, and there is no limit on the number of wills a person may create. However, it is important to note that the last valid will (chronologically) is the deciding one, overriding any former, older wills (unless the ‘new will’ is found faulty to the point of unlawfulness by a court of law). It is important to make sure that a will is up to date, especially if any changes, for instance marriage, divorce, the acquisition of new property etc. have taken place.
The law in Israel recognizes four types of wills:
- Hand written (section 19 of the Succession Law). The Hand Written Will must be written entirely in the testator’s hand-writing (Note! A hand written signature is not enough), and needs to bear the date of its composition, also in the testator’s hand-writing.
- In the presence of witnesses (section 20 of the Succession Law). This type of will shall be in writing, will bear the date of its composition, and must be signed by the testator and two witnesses on that same date. It is recommended that one of the witnesses be an attorney who specializes in wills, in order to prevent mistakes in the will which may cause its annulment after the testator’s death.
- In the presence of an authority (section 22 of the Succession Law). This will may be submitted in writing or recited orally in front of a judge, the inheritance registrar, a member of a religious court or a notary. The will must be accompanied by the testator’s testimony that this is indeed his will, and must be signed and authorized by the authority.
- Oral (section 23 of the Succession Law). Also known as ‘Death Bed Will’, this type of will is possible only if and when the testator is on his or her death bed, or believes they are facing imminent death (if the circumstances lend themselves to this belief). The will must be made in the presence of two witnesses who understand the testator’s tongue, and they must also put the will in writing, including its actual content, the date of its composition and the circumstances which brought about its composition in such a fashion. The will must then be deposited to the Inheritance Registrar’s Bureau. An oral will is void if within 30 days of its creation the testator is still alive and the circumstances which justified its making have passed.
Once made, a will may be deposited at the Inheritance Registrar’s Bureau. This is not a mandatory step, but there are significant advantages to it, such as proof of the existence of the will and assurance that the will will be preserved and not lost. The action of depositing a will at the Registrar is completely technical – the registrar does not check or vouch for the validity of the will on such an occasion. It is recommended to consult an attorney in such matters. Also, the content of the will and even the knowledge of whether a will has been deposited are kept secret, even from heirs according to the will (so long as the testator is alive).
An heir or anyone interested in the execution of a will may bring about its execution only through a probate order, which is granted by the Inheritance Registrar. A probate order is an order declaring the validity and authenticity of an existing will. The probate order validates the content of the will and gives it the same binding legal status as of a court verdict. The request for a probate order is publicized in order to allow for objections to the will to be made.
If the will specifies only some of the deceased’s property, the probate order will only be valid regarding the property mentioned in the will. The probate order does not suffer from obsolescence as it has the same status as a court verdict.
A request for a probate order must include the following documents:
- Two receipts: proof of payment of the government levy on submitting a request, from the Postal Bank of Israel.
- A Probate Order Request Form signed by the submitter, and verified by an attorney, notary, judge or the head of the local council.
- An original death certificate or a copy faithful to the original.
- The original will, or, in case of its absence: a separate request to submit a copy of the original will which includes the reasons for why the original will may not be submitted, as well as proof of payment of government levy for the request.
- Notices to all remaining heirs notifying them of the Probate Order Request, including the aforementioned heirs’ signatures or confirmation of delivery of the notices by registered mail.
It is advised to consult an attorney regarding the exact procedural requirements of the process of requesting a Probate Order. In case the request for the order is made by an attorney on behalf of an interested party, it must be accompanied by an original Power of Attorney or a copy faithful to the original.
A request for a Probate Order must be submitted to the Israeli Inheritance Registrar in four sets: an original set as well as three copies.
If the deceased’s place of residence was not Israel, alongside the aforementioned documents, the request must include additional documents, among them: proof of the existence of assets (such as the proof of ownership from a Land Registrar, authorization of active bank account etc.). All foreign documents must bear the signature of the Israel Consulate in the country in which they were made. Documents in any foreign language must be translated to Hebrew. The translations must bear the signature of a notary.
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