My Japanese husband passed away recently. My husband had assets, and his siblings have told me that because my husband and I never had children, my husband's assets must be divided up between his siblings, too. Is this true? My husband had no children, and he doesn't seem to have left a will.
When a person dies, the deceased person's assets are passed to relatives, etc. As the application of law is concerned, the law of the country of which the deceased person (被相続人 / hisōzokunin) was a national applies, so when the deceased person is Japanese, the laws of Japan will apply. One can make a will (遺言書 / yuigonsho) to designate one's beneficiaries (相続人 / sōzokunin) who will inherit one's assets upon one's death. When the deceased person does not leave a will, the distribution of assets is carried out in accordance with the law (Civil Code / 民法 / minpō).
Under the Civil Code, a spouse is always a beneficiary. As for beneficiaries other than the spouse, the child / children of the deceased will have priority. If there are no living children, then priority goes to other lineal descendants (直系卑属 / chokkei hizoku) of the deceased, i.e. grandchildren, then great grandchildren, and so on. If there are no lineal descendants, priority will go to the lineal ascendants (直系尊属 / chokkei sonzoku) of the deceased, i.e. parents, grandparents, and so on. When there are neither lineal descendants nor ascendants, the siblings of the deceased become beneficiaries. In your case, where your husband had no children, if neither of his parents or other lineal ascendants are living, then his siblings also have the right to his inheritance.
The proportion of the deceased's assets that can be inherited is also stipulated by law. A spouse and child of the deceased may each claim half of the assets. When there are no children, but spouse and parents or other lineal ascendants, the spouse may claim two thirds and lineal ascendants one third. When there are no lineal ascendants, but spouse and siblings, the spouse may claim three quarters, while the deceased's siblings may claim one quarter of the deceased's assets.
In any case, as this issue deals with the law, we recommend that you seek legal advice from a lawyer. Your municipal government office provides legal consultations for residents, so it may be useful to inquire there.
Nagoya International Center also provides free legal consultations for foreign residents with interpreting available in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese, by appointment only. Reservations can be made by calling 052-581-6111, and leaving a message on the answering machine. A staff member will call you back at a later date to confirm your appointment.
Nagoya International Center Civic Advisory Service for Foreign Residents
A free civic advisory service for foreign residents is available in person or by telephone at the Information Counter. A dedicated member of staff provides consultations on issues encountered by foreign residents in their day to day lives, in 9 languages.
For more information on the Civic Advisory Service (including service times and languages, and other free consultations for foreign residents, click here.
See the Living Information section for more Living Q & A articles.