There are thousands of foreigners that have in one way or another invested in Costa Rica, They either purchased property, invested in a business or opened bank accounts, or a combination of these. Despite this many of them have not given a single thought to what will happen to those investments and assets if they die. Some will rely of dispositons they made in their home country without understanding how they will be implemented in Costa Rica.
In this article I will provide some insights on how Costa Rican Law will deal with assets owned by foreigners upon their death.
When a foreigner with assets in Costa Rica dies their property will be distributed to their legal heirs, depending on whether they have died with a Costa Rican will in place, with a foreign Will or without a Will.
Dying without a Will
If a foreigner with assets in Costa Rica dies without a Will, the law provides that their property is divided proportionately between their legal spouse and their children. The process can be cumbersome and generally requires the heirs to provide proof of marriage by way of a marriage certifications and the birth certificates of any children. All of which must be Apostilled and translated to Spanish. If there are any minor children as part of the estate then the Court would name the Child Welfare Protection Agency as a party to oversee their interests in the estate. A probate process in court with a Will can take more than a year to wind itself through the Costa Rican court system.
Having a Foreign Will
If a foreigner dies in Costa Rica or in another country but has a valid foreign, will it will be valid in Costa Rica. However, it will have to be subjected to a court recognition process that can be lengthy and expensive. If a probate process was opened in a foreign country, then any orders issued in that court process would need to be recognized in a court in Costa Rica. This requires obtaining certified court documents and Apostilles to be able to present them for recognition in Costa Rica.
Having a Costa Rica Will
With a Costa Rican Will the probate process can be simplified since the underlying document (the will) will in a format that is understood by local authorities and thus simplifying the execution. To grant a Costa Rican Will you will need to retain the services of a Notario Publico to draft the will which needs to be signed in their presence and in the presence of witnesses. If you do not speak or write Spanish then the law requires that you have three witnesses and two translator witnesses for a total of five witnesses. If you die with a Costa Rican will in place then the heirs can open the probate process with that will and a certified copy of the death certificate. If there are no disputes with heirs or any minors as part of the estate the heirs can opt for a Notary Probate Process which is done before a Notary Public instead of through the court system which makes the process quicker. Under certain circumstances this option may not be available but it is an option that you need to discuss with your probate attorney.