Wills in Panama
A will or testament is the legal document used to assure the fulfillment of a deceased person’s last wishes, if this document complies with the requirements of the law. The Panamanian Civil Code provides the guidelines for the use of wills.
In general, every testament must identify those who will inherit the deceased’s assets, or how these assets should be used. Once the person passes away, the will instructions must be confirmed in a probate process.
There are two types of probate process in Panama: Testate (when a valid will exists), and Intestate (when no will exists, or when there is a will, but it does not meet legal requirements).
Types of testaments
The three most common types of wills are:
Holograph: when the deceased wrote his will entirely by hand. This type of will must meet specific requirements, or it becomes void. For example, it must be free of erasures, be clear and legible, define the place and date of its writing, include the name and signature of the deceased, contain the list of assets, and clearly identify the corresponding heirs or legatees.
Open: when the deceased presented his will before a notary, who at the same time becomes a witness. The notary records the testament as a public deed and inserts it in the notarial registry, reducing the risk of destruction or loss. Although it is one of the simplest methods, the content of the will becomes of public knowledge.
Closed: when the deceased drafts his will, and then delivers it to a notary who seals it. In this case, neither the notary nor any other person has access to the will’s content. The notary’s seal becomes proof that this document is the will of the deceased.
There are other types of will, such as military, maritime, and registered abroad. If a will is registered abroad it must follow the authentication process to be valid in Panama.
Regardless of the type of will, every will must always have a witness who complies with the requirements of Article 713 in the law.
Asset Distribution in Wills
Panamanian law distinguishes two ways to distribute assets in a will:
Universal distribution: When all assets are distributed in percentages of total value. For example, when a person inherits 30% of the value of the inheritance.
Singular or particular distribution: When assets are distributed individually. For example, when a property title is inherited to one person.
It is important to note that it is not always possible to distribute the deceased assets according to his will since there are legal obligations to the descendants (e.g., children), ascendants (e.g., parents) and spouse (if any), who are referred to as forced heirs.
Foreign wills in Panama
If you’re an expat considering the legal standing of your will in Panama, rest assured that the country generally recognizes foreign wills, provided they comply with the laws of their country of origin. Nevertheless, there are several important considerations to ensure the validity of your will within the Panamanian jurisdiction.
- First, you need to make sure that your will was created in accordance with the laws of the country in which it was created. For example, if you are a U.S. citizen and you created your will in the United States, your will must comply with all applicable U.S. laws.
- Second, it’s necessary for you to have your will translated into Spanish, you can opt for a professional translator or seek assistance from a bilingual friend or family member. This requirement stems from the fact that all legal documents in Panama must be in Spanish.
- Third, it’s essential to have your will apostilled or legalized. This ensures the authenticity of your will and validates it in Panama. You can accomplish this process by engaging with the relevant authorities in the country where your will was originally drafted.
After meeting these requirements, your foreign will should be considered valid in Panama. However, it’s important to understand that a foreign will may not carry the same legal weight as a local will. Panamanian law imposes certain specific requirements, such as the need for two witnesses to the will, as opposed to the single witness requirement of some other countries.
As an expat considering making a will, it’s advisable to consult with a Panamanian Patrimonial and Medical Law attorney. We can help you understand the legal requirements and ensure that your will is valid and effective.
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Panama requires a lawyer to assist in any probate process. We will be glad to assist you in all questions related to the probate process or to help you draft your will. Contact Us today.
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