A Guide to Testate vs. Intestate Probate in Panama

It is important to understand the concepts and implications of testate and intestate probate for estate planning in Panama. Testate probate refers to the process of distributing a deceased person’s estate according to the terms of their valid will, while intestate probate is the process of distributing a deceased person’s estate according to the laws of intestate succession, when they pass away without a will.

Both scenarios have specific implications for expats living in Panama. This article aims to provide a guide to each process and highlight the significance of preparing a will.

Testate Probate

How to create a valid will in Panama

A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes for how your property and assets will be distributed after your death. In Panama, there are specific requirements that must be met in order for a will to be considered valid:

  • You must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind.
  • You must also sign the will in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the will.
  • The will must be in writing and must be signed by you and the witnesses in front of a notary public.

When considering estate planning in Panama, including the creation of a will, it’s advisable to consult with legal experts familiar with Panamanian law. Kraemer & Kraemer provides estate planning services, including will drafting, to help expats navigate the legal complexities and ensure that their wishes are properly documented and followed.

The benefits of having a will

Having a valid will offers numerous advantages for expats in Panama:

  • Designating specific beneficiaries: You can be sure that your assets will go to the people you want them to go to, and not to the government or to other people who may not have your best interests at heart.
  • Allocating assets according to your wishes: You can decide who will inherit your property, your money, and any other assets you may have.
  • Appointing guardians for your minor children: You can choose who will take care of your children if you die.
  • Specifying your funeral arrangements: A will also allow you to specify your funeral arrangements, what kind of funeral you want, and who you want to be involved in the arrangements.
  • More clarity in the probate process: A valid will ensures that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes, but it does not eliminate the need for probate.
  • Avoiding conflicts and legal disputes: A will can also help avoid conflicts and legal disputes among family members after your death. This is because a will clearly outlines your wishes for how your assets should be distributed.

The process of probate for a testate estate

In the event of a testate estate, the probate process involves validating the will and executing its provisions. Probate proceedings in Panama can be time-consuming and complex, underscoring the importance of proper estate planning.

Intestate Probate

What happens if you pass away without a will in Panama

When someone dies without a valid will, their estate is subject to intestate probate. In such cases, the distribution of assets is determined by Panamanian laws of intestate succession, regardless of the deceased person’s intentions or family dynamics.

The laws of intestate succession in Panama

The laws of intestate succession in Panama govern the distribution of assets among the deceased’s closest relatives. The distribution typically follows a pre-established order, which may vary depending on the presence of a surviving spouse, children, parents, and other family members. In some cases, this distribution may not align with the deceased’s wishes, making estate planning even more crucial.

The process of probate for an intestate estate

Probating an intestate estate involves appointing an administrator to manage the estate’s settlement. The administrator’s primary responsibility is to distribute the assets according to the laws of intestate succession. This process takes several months and the cost of probate will depend on the size of the estate. Similar to testate probate, intestate probate can be a complex process, often requiring legal expertise to ensure fair and accurate distribution.

Make sure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

Estate planning is important for everyone, but it is especially important for expats living in Panama. This is because Panamanian law is different from the laws of many other countries, and it is important to make sure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

If you need help with estate planning, contact Kraemer & Kraemer. We are an experienced law firm that specializes in estate planning for expats living in Panama.

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Published August 24th, 2023, as Commentary on Patrimonial and Medical Law by Johana Sum