Making a Will for your assets in Turkey is so important – and yet, very few people do it. Only about 50% of our clients make a Will when they buy a property and, because we always raise the issue, that is almost certainly a much higher percentage than will be the case for foreigners in general.
That is crazy, because failing to make a Will can prove to be a very expensive mistake.
You can put into your Will pretty much anything that you like, but you should note that there is no concept of Trusts under the Turkish legal system, although there are other ways of producing pretty much the same result as you could do under a Trust. If you want to make provisions similar to those you would normally put in a Trust, you will need to take legal advice.
Video guide to Wills in Turkey
You can learn about Wills in Turkey by watching this full-length interview (below) with Turkish lawyer Başak Yıldız Orkun, or by scrolling down and reading the detailed guide that she has written with us.
The video guide below is a playlist – split into several parts. One part will play right after the other.
Why should you make a Will for use in Turkey?
There are four main reasons.
The first is that it can create a great opportunity for planning your affairs to reduce your liability to inheritance tax in Turkey and elsewhere. This can save you very large amounts of money.
The second is that it will make dealing with your affairs in Turkey much quicker. In Turkey, if you do not deal with an inheritance and pay the taxes due on it within six months (for non-nationals) there is a penalty to pay.
The third is that you can make sure that the people who will receive your property on your death are the people you want to receive it.
The fourth, and possibly most important, is that you will probably sleep more easily knowing that your affairs are in order.
What types of Wills are valid in Turkey?
The law of Turkey recognises any Will valid under the law of Turkey, valid under the law of the place where the Will was made, valid under the law of the place where you are habitually resident or valid under the law of your own country.
This means that Turkey will recognise pretty much any Will that you have made, whether it’s a Turkish Will or a Will from overseas.
For most people, the choice will be between using their ‘home’ Will to deal with their affairs in Turkey or using a special Will drawn up in Turkey.
However, in some cases there is a third option and that is having a Will prepared in accordance with the Washington Convention on the Form of International Wills. Unfortunately, relatively few states are signatory to this convention and it generally seems easier to rely upon a will made in your own country or in Turkey.
If you have made a Will in your home country then, technically, you do not need to make a new Will in Turkey. However, there are good reasons for doing so:
- It will be far cheaper to deal with your affairs in Turkey using a Turkish Will than it would be using your home Will.
- It will also be far quicker.
- You can tailor each Will to take maximum advantage of the tax laws in the country concerned.
How do you make a Turkish Will?
Any person over the age of 15 may make a Will, provided they have legal capacity: the ability to make fair and reasonable decisions.
In Turkey, there are three ways of making a Will.
A verbal Will
In certain circumstances, you may make a purely verbal Will, but this is generally a poor idea as it can be hard to prove your wishes when the time comes. We do not recommend it.
A handwritten Will
You may make a handwritten Will in Turkey.
It does not have to follow any particular form. Nor does it have to use any particular words. It does need to make it clear that this is your Will and it does need to be dated.
It must be entirely in your own handwriting. The Will must also be written in Turkish.
For various reasons, a handwritten will is not generally a good idea, even if you speak fluent Turkish. It is not even a good idea for native, Turkish-speaking Turks.
It is too easy to make a mistake in what you say or to be unclear as to your wishes and it is too easy for the Will to provoke all sorts of disagreements and arguments when you die.
It is much better to use a third option: make a Will in front of a Notary (noter).
A Will made in front of a Notary Public
Making a Will in front of a Notary Public in Turkey is very simple. It is also our recommended way of making a Will for use in turkey
You decide what you want to put in your Will. Because of the tax-saving opportunities offered by making a Will, it is worth taking advice upon this from your lawyer. This might cost €100-150. It could save you €200,000.
Once you’ve decided what you want to say in your Will, you go to the office of your local Turkish Notary. There are Notaries in most towns and cities, even small ones. It is helpful to choose a Notary who speaks your language, but this is seldom possible. You explain to them (or, more likely, their clerk) that you want a Will and what you want to put in it.
If you’ve sought legal advice about the contents of your Will your lawyer will probably write a letter to the Notary, saying what you want to do, or liaise directly with the Notary over the preparation of your Will. In this case, you won’t have to attend at the Notary’s office at this stage.
The Notary will then prepare your Will and tell you when it is ready to be signed. This will, normally, take two or three days. If you’re going back home before then, you can tell then when you’re going to be back in Turkey and the Will can be ready for signature at that time.
You must attend, in person, at the office of the Notary, at the agreed time, to sign your Will. You will need to take your passport with you as proof of identity.
You will also need to have two witnesses present at the Notary’s office. They must be over 18. Any gift made in the Will to a witness is usually invalid.
When you arrive at the Notary’s office either (if you speak Turkish) the clerk will go through the contents of your Will to check that it reflects your wishes or (if you don’t speak Turkish) there will be an official translator present. The translator will be arranged by the Notary. The official translator will translate the Will for you and check that it reflects your wishes.
Either way, if the Will is not quite right, it will be amended whilst you wait.
You will then be taken into the Notary’s room where the Notary will have a brief conversation with you. If they speak your language, the conversation will be in your language. If they do not, it will be via the official translator.
The Notary will then read to you the Will that has been prepared. It will be read to you in Turkish. If the Notary does not believe that your Turkish is good enough to understand fully what you have said, they will require the Will to be translated to you by the official interpreter.
The Notary will then examine your proof of identity (if they’ve not already done so) and you will then sign the Will in their presence.
The Notary will then witness the Will.
After you and the Notary have signed the Will, you will have to tell your two witnesses, in the presence of the Notary, that you have read the Will and that it is your last Will. The witnesses then sign a statement, attached to the Will, saying that they consider the person making the Will to be of sound mind and capable of making a Will, and that the person has acknowledged the document to be their Will in the presence of the witnesses.
The Notary will keep the original Will in their archives, lest it should later be needed.
The Notary will also supply you with an official copy of the Will.
The Will remains a private document and only becomes public after you have died and after the Court has issued a Certificate of Inheritance.
Once you have received the Will, it is a good idea either to let your children or other heirs have a copy of it (the better solution if you are not concerned about privacy) or – at least – to tell them where you keep your copy, and the name and address of the Notary who prepared it.
Whilst you’re doing all this – though it’s not strictly needed – it’s an extremely good idea to put the Will in a big envelope marked ‘Will’ and to also place in the envelope a list of all your assets including, in the case of investments, the contact point for the investment and its reference number. Once again, this will make dealing with your affairs when you die very much easier and cheaper. Put the list in the envelope, but do not physically attach it to the Will. Most importantly, keep the list up-to-date!
Every lawyer will tell you that their heart sinks when a distraught son or daughter, following your death, brings into their office a suitcase full of old bank account statements, share certificates, correspondence about investments etc. The lawyer will then have to follow up every single one of these leads in case you have €1million in the account concerned; yet they know, in their heart of hearts, that most of the accounts will have long since been closed and the investments sold years ago. This can all cost a lot of money! From the lawyer’s point of view, it is also very boring work.
This housekeeping is nothing to do with making a Will but something you really ought to do at the same time.
How much does a Notary Will Cost?
This depends on whether you need a translator. See above.
The Notary’s fee for preparing a Will is usually about TRY750 (€170, US$200, £150). If an official translator is required, you will also be expected to pay the translator’s fee. This varies upon the language spoken but is, typically, TRY200.
There will be an addition charge from your lawyer if you seek advice on the tax-saving opportunities presented by your Will. The amount will depend upon the complexity of your situation.
How long does it take to make a Turkish Will?
Typically, the process takes several days.
In cases of urgency, the process from telling the Notary what you want to say in your Will all the way through to receiving the original signed version of the Will, can be completed on the same day: often within couple of hours!
In an emergency, the Notary can visit you – often on the same day – in hospital or at your home.
The Will is legally effective as soon as it has been signed in front of the Notary.
What happens to the Will?
Unlike in many countries, where the Will itself is a valuable document, under the Turkish system it does not matter if you lose or burn your copy of the Will. The copy that matters is the copy that is held by the Notary.
That can be retrieved by your heirs.
What if you want to change the Turkish Will?
There are several ways of doing this but the simplest is to make a new Will. That, automatically, replaces the earlier Will.
It is also possible to change just part of your Will by way of a document known as a codicil (vasiyetname eki). In a codicil you expressly declare that the original Will remains valid but that you wish to change certain aspects of it. A codicil is made in exactly the same way as a full Will.
In general terms, we don’t think codicils are a good idea. They create unnecessary confusion and, in our era of the word processor, it is no more trouble (and barely more expensive) to completely replace the original Will.
Although getting divorced does not automatically cancel your Will, your ex-spouse will no longer be your legal heir and will no longer benefit from any gifts made to them. In practical terms, you should take a new Will if you divorce. In that Will you could, if you wished, make a perfectly valid gift “to my ex-wife”. Few people do!
What happens when you die?
The process for dealing with an inheritance in Turkey is quite straight-forward. See our Guide to Inheritance in Turkey.
It is vitally important that when you ask the Notary to prepare a Will you tell him if you have already made a Will somewhere else. It is equally important, if you’re making a new Will somewhere else after you’ve already made a Will in Turkey, that you tell the person making the new Will that you have already made a Will in Turkey.
If you do not, the Notary or the other person making the Will is likely, almost automatically, to start it by saying that you, “revoke all Wills that you have previously made”. If you’re making a Will ‘back home’, this will (or, at the very least, may) cancel your Will in Turkey! If you are making a Will in Turkey, this could have the effect of cancelling your Will back home. This is not a good idea.
Instead, the Notary in Turkey should say that you “revoke all Wills that you have previously made in Turkey” or the person making a Will for you in another country should say that you “revoke all my previous Wills except for the Will I have made relating to my property in Turkey”. They will use different forms of words depending on the circumstances, but that is the message.