What comes to mind when you hear “notary public”? Notarization is an official fraud-deterrent process that assures the parties of a transaction that a document, and the documents’ signatures, are authentic and can be trusted. The qualifications required for someone to notarize documents and signatures vary widely from country to country.
For example, in America, anyone over 18 without a criminal record, who is a legal resident of their state, and pays the required licensing fees, can become a state-licensed notary. While some states require passing a Notary exam, most do not. Some states require notaries to have formal training: in California, for example, completion of a six-hour course is required.
In Japan, Notary public offices are a kind of government agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. Notaries responsible for notarization are public officials under the Notary Act, but they do not receive any salaries, subsidies, or other financial benefits from the government.
The Minister of Justice appoints notaries from among those who have practiced law as judges, prosecutors, or attorneys and who have responded to a public call for applications. (Notary Law, Article 13). In addition, notaries may also be appointed by the Minister of Justice from among persons who have been engaged in legal affairs for a number of years and have academic experience equivalent to that of a qualified legal practitioner, who has responded to a public call for applications, and who have passed the selection process by the Prosecutors and Notaries Special Appointment Review Board. (Notary Law, Article 13-2).
In this month’s article, I want to write about the services available at a notary public office in Japan.
Notarization of private documents in a foreign language
From time to time, my office receives requests to authenticate powers of attorney written in English. Notarization in this context is the certification that the document was prepared by the person who is the creator of the document. Depending on where the document is submitted overseas, identification by an attorney（弁護士）or administrative scrivener/ Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialist（行政書士）may be considered acceptable. Still, I believe that notarization by a notary public would be considered acceptable no matter where the document is submitted. Those who have difficulty communicating in Japanese are required to be accompanied by an interpreter.
Notarization of Articles of Incorporation
The Articles of Incorporation of a joint stock company（株式会社 / KK）must be certified by a notary public. In contrast, articles of incorporation of a limited liability company (合同会社 / GK) do not need to be notarized by a notary public. Legal Associates Office Boston can prepare the Articles of Incorporation as part of the incorporation process when acting as clients’ agents. Still, the final notarization of the Articles of Incorporation of a joint stock company（株式会社 / KK）must be done by a notary public.
Notarial Deed for Divorce
A notarized divorce contract, which sets forth the terms of the divorce, is usually prepared before filing the divorce. In most cases, the parties file for divorce after stipulating custody, child support, alimony, property division, and other matters. The notarial deed is prepared in Japanese, so those who have difficulty communicating in Japanese are required to have an interpreter accompany them to the notary office.
There are three types of wills: a self-written will, a secret will, and a notarized will. A notarized will does not require probate. Two witnesses are required to prepare a notarized will. If communication in Japanese is difficult, an accompanying interpreter is required when the will is notarized.
When a foreigner makes a will in Japan, it becomes an issue of international inheritance.
In the case of international inheritance, it is necessary to consider which country’s laws apply.
For reference, the general rules for the making of wills according to the Act on General Rules for Application of Laws(法の適用に関する通則法) are:
Section 6 Inheritance
Inheritance shall be governed by the laws of the decedent’s country of origin.
The establishment and validity of a will shall be governed by the laws of the testator’s country of origin at the time of its establishment.
(2) The revocation of a will shall be governed by the laws of the testator’s country of origin at the time of its execution.
Laws governing the form of wills (遺言の方式の準拠法に関する法律)
Article 2 A will shall be valid as to form if its form conforms to any of the following laws
(i) The law of the place of action
(ii) The law of the country of which the testator had nationality at the time the will was made or the testator died
(iii) The law of the place where the testator had his/her domicile at the time the will was made or the testator died
(iv) The law of the place where the testator had his/her habitual residence at the time of the execution of the will or his/her death
(v) With respect to a will relating to real estate, the law of the place where the real estate is located.
The above means that a foreigner with an address in Japan can make a will according to the Japanese method. And the advantage of choosing to make a notarized will is that it does not need to go through the lengthy probate process. (Probate/ 検認 is a procedure to inform heirs of the existence and contents of a will, to clarify the contents of the will as of the date of probate, and to prevent subsequent forgery or alteration of the will. （It is not, as often misunderstood, a procedure for determining the validity of a will.)
However, which country’s law determines the validity and validity of a will is another issue. The legal processes pertaining to international inheritances are too complex for the scope of this month’s article and will not be discussed here.
If you are in need of more information about the services notaries can provide, please contact a notary public directly using the list of notary offices in Japan that can be found at: https://www.koshonin.gr.jp/list
We recommend that you contact any notary office in advance to make an appointment.
We here at Legal Associates Office Boston can assist you in facilitating the notarization process by drafting notarial deeds and providing English/Japanese language support when dealing with Notary offices in Japan.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this article is accurate at the time of posting, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ. If you do require advice or wish to find out more about the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
Text by: Masayo Boston (Certified Administrative Procedure Legal Specialist), August 2022
Legal Associates Office Boston (Fukuoka City)
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