Inheritance law in Israel is governed in principle by the Inheritance Law, 5728–1965. This law determines that in Israel there are only two ways to bequeath an inheritance: by a last will and testament or by the law, and in the wording of Section 2 of the law: "the inheritors are inheritors by law or those entitled by a last will; the inheritance is by law, unless it is by last will."
In order to emphasize that these are the only two ways to bequeath an inheritance, Section 8 of the law determines that an agreement dealing with a person's inheritance, or a waiver of his inheritance, executed in that person's lifetime – is null and void, and that any gift that a person gives in his lifetime for it to be given to a recipient only after the giver's death – is also null and void, unless this is done as part of a last will. Therefore, when a person passes away, it is necessary to first check whether he left a last will behind. In case the answer is yes, and the last will is found to be legally valid – the inheritance is to be distributed pursuant to the provisions of the last will; however, in case the deceased did not leave behind a last will, or in case he leaves behind a last will that is found to be legally invalid – it is necessary to act pursuant to the provisions of law.
In case a legally valid will is found, but it ignores a certain part of certain estate assets, then those assets not specified in the last will must be divided pursuant to the provisions of the law, and the assets mentioned in the last will – pursuant to the provisions of the last will. Civil Appeal 449/88 Ofri v. Perlman dealt with the case of a negative will – which only determined who shall not inherit the testator. The court determined that in case that there are inheritors by law, then it is possible to recognize the validity of a negative will, and that the rule is that the inheritors by law who are not disinherited by the will shall be the ones to inherit the testator's estate pursuant to the provisions of law.
Distribution of the inheritance pursuant to law
As foregoing, in case that the deceased did not leave behind a last will, or that he did leave a last will but it was invalidated or it ignored parts of the estate assets – then it is necessary to act with the inheritance as a whole or with respect to the assets it ignores pursuant to the provisions of the law, and more specifically, pursuant to the provisions of Chapter B of the Inheritance Law, which necessitates a profound understanding of Israel Law.
Chapter B of the law determines that the inheritance by law must be distributed pursuant to the inheritance branches approach, also known as "parental level".
In this system, there are three branches of inheritance, ranked hierarchically, determined in accordance with the degree of kinship of the deceased's relatives to him. In this approach, in case that there are inheritors in the first branch, they shall inherit the entire estate, and the inheritors of the next branches shall not be entitled at all to any part of the inheritance. In case that there are second-branch inheritors, they shall inherit the entire inheritance, while the third-branch inheritors shall not be entitled to any part of the inheritance.
First branch: the deceased's descendents
If the deceased has a partner, the inheritance shall be divided equally between the partner and the deceased's descendents.
Second branch: the deceased's parents
If the deceased has a partner, then in case the deceased's parents are alive – the partner is entitled to half the inheritance, and the deceased's parents to the other half. In case the deceased's parents are no longer alive – the partner is entitled two thirds of the inheritance, and the parents' descendents are entitled to the remaining third, in equal parts among them.
Third branch: the deceased's parents' parents
If the deceased has a partner, the partner is entitled to two thirds of the inheritance, and the parents of the deceased's parents or their descendents are entitled to the remaining third, in equal parts among them.
In addition, the partner is entitled to the chattel and car of the household he or she shared with the deceased. In addition, in case the deceased has no surviving inheritor besides the partner, the partner shall inherit the entire apartment that he lived in with the deceased in the last three years before his death.
Distribution of an inheritance in accordance with a last will
Naturally, it is particularly reasonable to prepare a last will when the testator desires to determine a distribution arrangement different from the distribution arrangement by law. In case that the arrangement he desires is identical to the one set by law by default, then clearly there is no supposed reason to prepare a last will.
Pursuant to the Inheritance Law, it is possible to prepare four types of last wills, as detailed below:
a. Last will in handwriting – this is a last will written entirely in the testator's handwriting, from beginning to end, which also bears a date written in his handwriting and his signature. In order to prepare such a will, there is no need for witnesses, and the testator may deposit it with the Inheritance Registrar.
b. Last will in presence of witnesses – this is a will also made in writing, although it is usually prepared in print and not handwritten. This testament is unique in it being prepared in the presence of two witnesses, before whom the testator declares that it is indeed his last will. The witnesses must confirm with their signatures on the last will that the testator indeed made this statement and signed the will before them as foregoing. This testament too can be deposited with the Inheritance Registrar. This is also the most common type of will.
c. Last will before an authority – this is a last will declared verbally or in writing before certain judicial factors, such as a judge, notary public or member of a religious court. With the filing of the last will with the authority, its provisions shall be read aloud to the testator, in the last will's language (or translation, in case the testator is not proficient in the last will's language), and following his declaration that this is indeed his last will, it shall be signed by that judicial factor.
d. Verbal last will – this is a last well made verbally only in exceptional cases, where the testator constitutes a "deathly ill person", i.e. a dying person on his deathbed, or one that considers himself to be facing death. Such last will must be spoken verbally before two witnesses, who are proficient in the testator's language, and who must write down his words and deposit it with the Inheritance Registrar. In case one month elapses from the date of preparing the last will, and the testator remains alive – the last will is canceled, and a new one must be prepared, in case the testator so wishes.
All inheritors are not always present in Israel, and therefore it is extremely important to receive legal consultation from an Israeli lawyer who works in Israel and is familiar with the law. The field of inheritance laws is a complex one, requiring profound knowledge and acquaintance with Israeli law and justice systems and the institutions relevant to this area, and therefore it is recommended to consultant and hire a professional, experienced lawyer in this field.
Eli Shimony - Israeli law firm representing clients on all civil legal issues in Israel. For any questions please contact us and we will be happy to assist.
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The above article is a general information only and it is not intended to replace a legal advice.