The past week of bloodshed in Paris greatly anguished me on a number of different levels. First, as a mother and married woman who is incapable of even imagining the intensity of the pain of such a cruel loss, and second, as an attorney specializing in family law who knows from close range how such unexpected events inflict a triple blow: emotionally, economically, and legally.
One of those murdered in the attack is Francois-Michel Saada, of blessed memory, who was 64 years old. From the media we heard that he purchased an apartment in Israel, and that he apparently planned at some stage to realize his Zionistic dream of moving to Israel and living there with his family. Now after this terrible tragedy, what is the legal significance of this apartment in Israel for his wife and two children? What should they do if no will was written? What does Israel’s Inheritance Law mandate in such a case? Does it deal with the fact that they do not reside in Israel?
Statistics show that most people do not prepare a will. The human tendency is to believe that "it won't happen to me" and that "everything will be okay." But, unfortunately, this week has proven to us that it does happen – and that it is worthwhile and important to prepare in advance.
So what, exactly, happens in a situation where no will was written and a tragic incident befalls the family, and what is the proper way of dealing with such a circumstance?
I will divide my answer into two parts. The first part will deal with the proper way to deal with complex situations – by preparing in advance. The second part will deal with complex and unfortunate situations: No advance preparation? So what do you do now?
First and foremost, I will note that people who value orderliness and prefer that their family's future remain in their hands should make advance arrangements for the transfer of ownership of family property and other property.
A will is in essence a deal a person makes regarding all his property. It is the deal of his life, or rather, the deal of his death. A will is a life-changing document – not only for the testator, but also, and mainly, for the deceased's relatives – those who will inherit and those who will not. Many people wonder why they should write a will when there are already inheritance laws. There are a number of clear answers to this question, but there are two main reasons that are particularly persuasive, while actually it is only one, that says this: the Inheritance Law, on the one hand, is a collection of rather dry defaults for various circumstances that the deceased and his family may find themselves in when the deceased passes from this world. On the other hand, the law enables the testator to determine more or less any arrangement that he sees fit, in the format of a proper will. In other words, the Inheritance Law is very flexible for someone who chooses to write a will, and fairly rigid for someone who chooses not to write a will – or, more accurately, for his heirs.
The Inheritance Law relates to circumstances that the legislator saw in his time as natural or usual. But reality is much more dynamic, as we learned once again this week, and a person's property is often no less complex. Many people do not take care of finalizing registration in Tabu (Israel's real estate registry), or arranging for promises of one sort or another made to family members. Others fail to share information regarding the existence of certain property they inherited or otherwise acquired, thus creating a situation where a person's passing initiates a cycle of disagreements and uncertainty with a very great likelihood that the family members – together and individually – will end up losing out and in conflict on many levels. Therefore, anyone who wants to leave his loved ones with an orderly situation, and who wants to make sure his family remains whole, would do well to make advance preparations and write a will that takes into account all possibilities, and that considers all relevant parameters.
But, as I noted above, this is not yet routinely done in Israel. I will therefore relate here also to the other case – what happens in the extreme case where a person dies suddenly without leaving a will? And what happens in a case where the person, for example, lives abroad and owns property in Israel?
First of all, it is important to understand that the laws in Israel and other countries are different, and therefore it is important to get expert advice both for property located abroad and for property located in Israel regarding the manner of their inheritance and inter-generational transfer.
Second, one should check whether the deceased submitted a will to the Inheritance Registrar in the office of the General Legal Guardian. Each district in Israel has its own registrar (Be'er Sheva, Tel-Aviv, Haifa); refer to the one serving the deceased's place of residence. All requests for inheritance orders and will execution orders are submitted to the Inheritance Registrar. The Inheritance Registrar holds the authority to declare a will valid, or to issue an inheritance order, in accordance with the law. In case of dispute among the heirs, the case is transferred to Family Court.
Third, submit a request for a will execution order, or for an inheritance order, to the Inheritance Registrar or to the Rabbinical Court. After receiving the request, the registrar publishes a newspaper notice that a request was submitted. If no objections are received, the registrar issues an order to execute the will or an inheritance order (if there is no will).
Fourth, after receiving the order, it is important to contact all relevant financial institutions – central administrations of banks, insurance companies, etc., in order to check whether there is any money, property or rights registered under the deceased's name. Any heir who possesses an inheritance order or a will execution order can contact these institutions as an individual, or together with other heirs, to obtain information relating to the deceased.
At this point, all that remains is for us to once again remind you to go ahead and take care of these matters in advance, because life is anything but expected.
Adv. Shiri Malca is the owner of a firm that handles family law and has a department to manage financial risks in the family, with an emphasis on property in Israel and abroad.