What You Should Know About
Wills in the Russian Federation
Legal Department, Alinga Consulting Group
Wills, as they exist in the West, are relatively recent developments in Russia.
The legislation regulating them is rather new as well, but is now more or less complete. In 1993, the fundamental legislation on notaries, still valid today, was confirmed. In 2001, Part Three of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation (CCRF), which covers inheritance rights, was adopted. These documents regulate the process of creating a legal will. The legislative provisions regarding notaries are also extremely important, since notaries must play a substantial role in the process.
Currently, due to the explosive growth of private property, wills are becoming more popular in Russia and now represent an effective means of controlling the dispersal of one's property in the event of death. However, one should be careful when creating a will. It is important to keep in mind that no detail is insignificant. Every word should have only one meaning, so that no doubt will arise among heirs or courts as to what your intentions were when drafting your will.
A will is a document that can be created only by a an adult aged 16 and over and declared fully competent, or by a person who has married prior to reaching adulthood. The law does not allow creating a will through a representative (Part Three, Article 1118 CCRF); it will require you presence throughout the process, so be prepared to devote sufficient time to the project.
The drafting process is highly formalized and any violation of the legislative requirements can lead to your will being declared invalid. However, Russian legislation provides that the competence of a person to create or revoke a will, as well as the form of such a document, is determined by the law of the country where you resided at the time your will was drafted.
A notary will need to establish whether you are of "sound mind and body." In practice, this is determined simply based on how the notary perceives your outward appearance, but ideally it should be based on a medical certificate, obtained from an appropriate medical institution, upon the notary's request.
Further, a will must be drafted in writing (Part One, Art. 1124 CCRF). In fact, it should either be written in your own handwriting or machine-typed by a notary based on your actual words (Art. 1125 CCRF). If the notary types the will, you must read the entire text before signing. If this is not possible (such as due to poor eyesight), the notary must read it aloud, in full, to you and must make a note within the actual will that this procedure was necessary.
If any handicap or illness prevents you from independently expressing your intentions, you may not make a will, since a will presupposes the ability to precisely understand one's actions and express one's agreement with the content of the will.
The general rule is that a will must be signed by you personally. However, if due illness or handicap this is not possible, another person known as the "signer's assistant" in Russian law can sign for you, but only in the presence of the notary, and if a notation is made in the actual will that this procedure was necessary. The signer's assistant must also indicate in the will his/her passport data and place of residence.
The primary purpose of a will is to name heirs and to indicate the property intended to be given to them. You have the right to list in a will any property currently in your possession, as well as any which will be acquired in the future (Part One, Art. 1120 CCRF). Moreover, you have the right to leave more than one will (although, of course, the wills should not conflict with each other). You also have the right to leave to more than one heir an indivisible thing (for example, a musical instrument), establishing the order in which it is to be used, or leaving it up to the heirs to establish that order.
In fact, Russian law stipulates a "principle of freedom" in drafting wills (Art. 1119 CCRF). This implies:
the freedom to bequeath anything to anyone;
the freedom to determine shares of an inheritance to heirs;
the freedom to deprive one, several, or all heirs of an inheritance, without giving a reason;
the freedom to include other arrangements in a will.
However, the principle of freedom in drafting a will is limited by legislation by defining the circle of heirs who have the right to a mandatory share of all property inherited by your named heirs (Article 1149 CCRF). The size of the mandatory share is calculated by dividing the sum of the value of the willed property by the number of named heirs, then dividing by two again. The circle of mandatory heirs is also strictly defined by the legislation. They are:
your non-adult or disabled children;
your disabled parents and your spouse;
your disabled dependents.
Thus, having decided to bequeath all your property to one or more persons, you should keep in mind that a certain part of your property will nevertheless go to mandatory heirs.
All the above applies to citizens of Russia who decide to draw up wills, as well as to foreigners who draw up wills in Russia. If you leave property to a foreigner within a will drawn up in Russia, that foreigner will have many of the same rights as Russian citizens, as described in Article 4 of the Federal Law "On the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens in the Russian Federation." For example, foreigners, like Russian citizens, are exempt from taxation on inherited property. However, foreigners do not have all the same rights as Russian citizens. For example, foreigners may not inherit agricultural land located in the Russian Federation, since foreigners only have the right to rent, and not to own, such land (in accordance with the Land Code of the Russian Federation).
International agreements concluded between Russia and other states strengthen foreigners' rights in Russia. They provide that a citizen of one country is completely equal to that of another country with regard to inheritance. These agreements place foreigners on a generally equal footing with Russian citizens under Russian law in inheriting property, transferring inherited property, and in drafting and revoking wills.
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