Too many people put off doing their will and succession plans. Here is another reminder to do so, but more importantly, some tips to save money and make you more secure if you live in Costa Rica. A last will and testament means making life easier for the left behind. This priceless document can also make it much harder for the vultures that cloud over an expats death in this country to steal assets from their rightful heirs.
Foreign residents are usually considered walking wallets by locals, which means there is always somebody looking, counting, waiting for an opportunity to take it all. There are local women who prey on expats, making them believe in their love and devotion while they slowly and diligently do their research and calculate everything to make their move. There are also neighbors lurking through the fence, ready to take over expats’ assets. Yes, it happens more frequently than anyone can imagine, and there is always a starving lawyer ready to sell his soul to the Devil.
Thinking of death is definitely not fun, but thinking of protecting one’s assets and putting them in good hands is something worth investing time. Many expats who do not have a will have assets under sociedades anónimas, or even in their personal names (This is not recommended) but have no succession plan in place.
Some expats have gotten together with a companion and may be innocently sharing sensitive information about the ownership of assets. Corporation can be easily changed by simply getting one’s hands on the legal books. It only takes minutes and a dishonest lawyer to falsify signatures.
It only takes minutes and a dishonest lawyer to falsify signatures. It takes years and a lot of money to prove the fraud.
When properties go unclaimed for 10 years because the deceased expat’s family in the U.S. is unaware of the assets held in Costa Rica, lurking and patient neighbors may move in little by little and start claiming ownership over the land. This type of situation is also a dirty lawyer’s paradise since they can easily falsify a dead person’s name and resell the property at their convenience. If someone spills the beans or finds out, it is hard to prove the hoax. The Registro Nacional is not in charge of checking if each signature belongs to a living or deceased person, so this kind of scheme is an easy way to steal property. Only recently has the institution even — in some cases — begun to do so.
Therefore, as surely as some eyebrows have already been raised this far into this article, there is a way out of the potential post-mortem mess. A will made in Costa Rica may turn out to be a better choice than one made in the United States.
Here are some important reasons to consider doing a will in Costa Rica and taking the task off one’s to-do list:
It may be cheaper. A will in the United States may cost from several hundred to some thousands of dollars if prepared by a lawyer, whereas a will in Costa Rica prepared by a notary is much less expensive.
It is more official. In Costa Rica, there is a will called an open or public will. An open will is the safest, most used and official, since it is recorded in the Costa Rican national archive. It is available when needed and safe from any suspicious activity. In the United States, wills are normally written on a piece of paper and enclosed in an envelope. They are easily lost or tampered with by the greedy.
It can be general or specific. A will in Costa Rica can encompass all of one’s assets all over the world or be specific to only certain assets in Costa Rica. A specific will is a great way to leave an asset for a friend in this country, without making other heirs aware of the transaction. Now, with this said, if other rightful heirs find out about a Costa Rican will, they can contest it here if they wish. However, this rarely happens and is expensive to do so.
It is simpler to probate. When someone dies, and he or she has an open, public will in which the beneficiaries are older than 18 and no disagreement emerges from the distribution of assets, a notary can probate the will using a fast track method called a sucesorio notarial. The probate process takes only a few months vs. years when no public will exists.
The process gets complicated when minors are involved or when there are disagreements over the will. Expats with minor children should appoint either a lawyer or a trusted adult to decide over assets if they are adding the minors to an open will in this country.
All people should plan to protect their assets in death, especially expats living in Costa Rica. A good will is one way to do so. There are additional ways assets can be protected, which should be considered as a complement to a last will and testament.
There is a well known saying in this country that reads, “doctors may not be able to bring people back to life, but lawyers in Costa Rica certainly do so all the time.”