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Understanding Court Probate and Notarial Probate in Costa Rica

by rpetersen

In Costa Rica, as in many countries, the process of validating a will and administering an estate is known as probate. This article demystifies the probate process in Costa Rica by exploring two distinct types: court probate (“juicio de sucesión”) and notarial probate (“sucesorio notarial”).

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process through which the assets of a deceased person are inventoried, debts are paid, and assets are distributed to heirs or beneficiaries. The process ensures that the distribution follows the decedent’s will or, if there is no will, the country’s intestacy laws.

Court Probate in Costa Rica:

Court probate is a judicial process that begins with the filing of a lawsuit by the interested parties or heirs in the civil court. This route is mandatory in cases where there is no will, the will is contested, there are minor or incapacitated heirs, or when real estate is involved. The process includes several steps:

  1. Filing the lawsuit in a civil court.
  2. Notification to all interested parties.
  3. Inventory and appraisal of the estate’s assets.
  4. Payment of the deceased’s debts.
  5. Distribution of the remaining assets to the heirs.

The court probate process can be lengthy, often taking several months to years, depending on the estate’s complexity and any legal challenges that may arise.

Notarial Probate in Costa Rica:

Notarial probate is a faster and more streamlined process conducted by a notary when the deceased has left a will that is not contested. It is applicable only when all heirs are of legal age and sound mind and there are no disputes among them. The steps for notarial probate include:

  1. The will’s presentation to a notary.
  2. Verification of the will’s validity.
  3. Agreement among all heirs on the distribution of assets.
  4. Notary’s supervision of asset distribution.

The notarial probate process can often be completed in a matter of weeks, making it a preferable option for many families.

Choosing the Right Probate Process:

The choice between court probate and notarial probate will depend on several factors, including the existence of a will, the type of assets within the estate, and the heirs’ agreement. It’s crucial to seek legal advice to determine the most suitable process for your situation


Understanding the differences between court probate and notarial probate in Costa Rica is essential for anyone involved in the administration of an estate. Each process has its requirements and timelines, and choosing the correct path can significantly impact how quickly and smoothly the estate is settled. When dealing with probate matters, it is advisable to consult with a legal professional who specializes in Costa Rican estate law to guide you through the process.

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