What is a Japanese secret certificate will?

In previous blogs we’ve written in detail about notarized wills and holographic wills. Another of the three main types of will established in the Japanese Civil Code is called a “Secret Certificate Will”. This type of will is less common than the first two, however it is a viable option if you’re in a circumstance where you don’t want the contents of your will known before your death.

Unlike with a notarized will, secret certificate wills are not predetermined to be valid so there are risks involved. But before we go into that, what exactly is a Secret Certificate Will?


What is a Japanese secret certificate will?

As the name implies, the contents of a secret certificate will are only known by the testator, the person who made it. But what makes it different to a holographic will you just don’t tell anyone about?

The difference is that with a secret certificate will, the will’s contents are sealed in an envelope and the existence of the sealed envelope containing the secret will is confirmed and recorded by a notary public and two (or more) witnesses. The notary and witnesses do not check what is inside the sealed envelope so they don’t check over the contents for you, and if someone breaks the seal to open the will it becomes invalid.


Why make a secret will?

Secret wills are for people who don’t want their will’s contents to be known before their death. Unlike with holographic wills, these wills cannot be forged and can be typed on a computer (although it must be signed with the testator’s signature).

Although these wills are accounted for by the notary public, if you lose the will or it is destroyed then the record of it won’t mean much. There’s no reason to make a secret will if you have nothing that requires being kept secret from heirs until your death.


The problem of validity

Although a secret certificate will has some benefits, there is still the matter of the validity of the will’s content.

Because a notary public doesn’t create the will for you, it’s up to you to do your best to make sure the will fits the requirements for validity. The will might be ineffective or even deemed invalid if details are explained too vaguely or the will doesn’t meet the conditions laid out in the Civil Code.

Keep in mind that a secret certificate will must be taken while it is still sealed to be opened and verified by an official at the family court after the death of the testator.


The process

  1. Write your will and sign or stamp it. This can be done by hand or typed up on a computer. If someone writes the will on your behalf either by hand or on a computer, you must state that person’s name and address to the notary public or it will be deemed invalid.
  2. Seal the will in an envelope and affix the signature or personal seal (the same as the one used to sign the will, preferably a registered personal seal)
  3. Make an appointment at a notary public office to have the seal certified. You will need to identify at least two witnesses who must also be present at the appointment. Minors, beneficiaries/potential heirs and their spouses, and direct relatives cannot be witnesses, and witnesses must also sign the seal and provide their registered address and identification to the notary.
  4. Sign and stamp a document prepared at the notary public office along with your witnesses. This will be kept as a record of your secret will.
  5. Store the secret will in a safe place.



Although the process of making a secret certificate will involves a notary public, it is still an option that comes with risks.

If there is nothing in your will you would prefer to keep secret, a notarized will is a safer option. Notarized wills are recorded and kept safe by the notary public office and because they are automatically deemed to be valid, inheritance procedures will be much easier for heirs.

If you’re interested learning in more about your options for creating a will valid in Japan that will protect your estate, we offer free consultations where we can answer your questions. Contact us today.

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