Navigating Mexico: The Right Time to Write a Will
By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE
Nobody wants to think about their own mortality, and sitting down to write a will is about a blatant a reminder of that fact as you can find.
Which is why more than 75 percent of Mexicans die intestate.
But as hard as it may be to confront the possibility of your own death, writing a last will and testament is the one sure way you can guarantee that your estate — be it big or small — passes to the person or persons you want to have it.
The process of getting a will written and formalized in Mexico is surprising quite simple.
Mexican laws concerning wills are pretty draconian, dating back to a time when most citizens did not read or write, so the language is quite odd, but that should not be an obstacle.
Whether you are a Mexican citizen or a legal resident, have assets or not, a will, even if you are young, is a great idea.
And writing a will is even more important for those without family in Mexico.
Without a will, after your death, certain things will kick-in automatically for the next of kin, but this can be costly and take time. If large assets are involved, a probate court may be necessary.
So if you care about those who will have to pick up the pieces after your death, do them a favor and write a will.
The price for getting a will varies slightly from state to state, but for the simplest type of will, the cost is about $80.
There is a special discount every year during the month of September, when you are assigned a participating notary.
Many notaries will give the September price year round, and there is an even deeper discount for seniors.
There are actually eight types of wills in Mexico, but the two most common are a public open will and a public closed will.
All wills are registered nationally so upon death, even if the deceased did not share the will with someone, the will can be traced.
How? Through the notary public.
That is where all things related to writing a will begin and where they end.
Anyone over 18, even those without assets, can go to a notary to begin the process.
You are charged per beneficiary, so it is easier to name a sole executor, along with a substitute, and while you could list specific properties or assets, the easiest thing to do is just describe how you wish things to be divided: “equally among my x number of living children,” or “50 percent to San Vicente Orphanage and 50 percent to the Mexico City Opera.”
The notary’s job is to listen to your wishes and construct them in text in such a way that your wishes are respected and not easily contested.
No witnesses are generally needed, but some notaries are strict and still require them. Most will just use their office staff.
For a closed public will, witnesses are required and they attest that they saw the notary receive the will in a closed sealed envelope, the contents of which can only be revealed after death.
While most people share their will with close family or the executor as open, there are some who prefer this more dramatic closed approach.
You will need all of the usual identifications for the notary to draw it up and give you an unofficial copy to review.
The will will list your parents, your children and the like.
From there, you pay the fee, the notary registers the will in the national data base and you return in a few weeks with the final will that has numerous stamps, stickers and, of course, the notary’s signature, followed by copies of the official identifications you presented.
You have the original will and the notary has a copy, with the national data base able to track the will back to the notary you select if your copy is ever lost.
Yes, a will can be changed at anytime.
Most notaries will recommend generic statements that work forever like “all of my assets at my death.” However, your wishes can be as specific as you choose.
What if you just write it out in your own handwriting?
That is considered a will in Mexico and has a name, ológrafo, which might be a good word for playing Scrabble in Spanish, but most people have never heard the term, which might be loosely translated as holograph.
It is not considered valid if it is not registered.
A will in Mexico is only about distribution of assets and not what makes its way into wills we see in the movies with end-of-life medical requests or spreading ashes in Cancun.
When will your last will not be respected in Mexico?
There are basically two instances: If you have real estate property and you wrote into the deed, the escrituras, a specific beneficiary, that is what will be respected first, if that person or institution exists. Banks will honor the person you listed as the beneficiary on the account or investment, independent of what your will says unless there is a court battle.
So, getting a will written in Mexico is really not that hard, and is definitely worth doing for your peace of mind, and those of your heirs.