A son can bear with equanimity the loss of his father, but the loss of his inheritance may drive him to despair. – Niccolo Machiavelli
In my last article, I talked about the importance of having a legal will in Israel (or in any other country you might have assets). In this piece, I’m going to discuss what happens when it’s time to carry out the terms of a will.
Many people tend to have a Hollywood view of the reading of a will: a person dies, a funeral, and then an ageing lawyer calls everyone into a room where they unfurl “The Will.” The reality is a little different, can take a lot more time, and is usually not as dramatic as what is portrayed in the movies (although, sometimes it can be)!
Executing a will
So how are the terms of a will put into practice?
In order to execute a will, a court order or approval is needed. This process is what’s known as a probate.
You might think that if someone leaves a valid will, then the will is read, the assets distributed and everyone goes home happy. However, a probate needs to take place regardless of whether or not there is a will.
What is true is if there is a legally valid will that nobody contests, the process will be quicker than if a person dies intestate (without leaving a will).
So, how does a probate work?
Any heir of the deceased can start the probate process, and it can be initiated either by law or by will.
Broadly speaking, the stages of a probate are as follows:
Step 1 – Notification
All heirs have to be notified about the request of a probate. This allows them to obtain their share of what has been left to them (or what they are eligible to according to the law). It also gives them an opportunity to object to what is written in the will.
A person might lodge a complaint if, for example, someone left more than one will with different terms or if someone changed the terms of their bequests (within the confines of a legal will).
Step 2 – Advertisement
Once the heirs have been notified, the court publicly advertises (in a newspaper) that an order of probate has been requested. This public notification allows anyone other than the heirs to come forward with an objection. It also allows anyone (another lawyer, for example) who might have a different will to come forward.
If no objections are filed , the court moves forward with the probate, the assets are distributed and the legal issues are wrapped up.
The complications begin if there are any objections to the terms of the will or if there are competing wills. In such a situation, the court has to check the objections, which, as you can imagine, can be a stressful and lengthy process.
Step 3 – Decisions
If there are objections, the court will determine the validity of objections and decide whether to proceed according to the will or to go according to the law (or vice versa).
For example, in a case our firm is dealing with now, a worker in an old age home convinced the deceased to leave him all their assets instead of leaving them to his family. When the probate was published, the children – as you can imagine – stepped in to object.
Stage 4 – Divisions
Once any objections are sorted out, the court will issue an order of probate explaining how the assets should be divided and at this point the matter is closed.
Deceased “Domicile” Outside of Israel
Since many people have assets in more than one country and since some people may not live in Israel permanently, even if they are citizens, it can be complicated to know where a probate should be obtained.
In the case of Israel, even if the deceased’s domicile (center of living) at the time of death was outside Israel, but they had assets in Israel, a probate must still be obtained in Israel. At the same time, it’s also important to note that in order to start the probate process in Israel, it has to be proven that the deceased had assets in Israel.
If someone has assets in multiple countries, probate can happen either according to the four stages listed above or if a probate was issued in another country, then it can just be approved in Israel. This means there is no need to go through the whole process again.
In addition, any time an order of probate is requested for someone whose domicile was outside of Israel, one must file a legal opinion stating the relationship between the local law of the deceased domicile and Israeli law.
I know that these are not easy matters to talk about, and that some people are reluctant to plan for what happens after they are gone. But to make the inevitable legal process as easy and stress-free as possible, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a valid and binding will that lays everything out clearly and plainly. Not only will it make things more simple for your family or heirs, but it will bring you tremendous peace of mind as well.