Pattaya Legal Corner: How do I obtain probate following a death in Thailand?


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Q:  How do I obtain probate following a death in Thailand?

Assuming there is a will, the executor or (sometimes) the executor must request probate from the provincial Thai court.  The judge will check the will has been properly drawn up and that a full version in Thai is available.  It will be necessary for the deceased’s representative to be present in court as the judge may ask questions, such as information on the family tree.

Difficulties can arise if the will has been poorly drawn up, eg the document not properly witnessed or ambiguous instructions.  Moreover, the will should be accompanied by proof of relevant documents such as bank account details of the deceased, property chanod, logbook of vehicle.  The original will must not bear suspicious markings such as staple marks, crossings out and so on.  Once granted, probate can then be used by the executor to carry out the terms of the will.

If the deceased did not leave a will, the Thai court may be persuaded to give probate to the next of kin, typically the surviving spouse.  However, disputes can readily arise if the deceased passed on intestate, particularly if there are relatives here or abroad who feel aggrieved.  A written will is essential in the case of common law marriages (those not formally registered at the Department of Provincial Organization) or same sex unions which are not yet formally recognized in Thailand.

The Thai probate won’t be sufficient if there is an overseas estate to distribute.  Each country has its own probate rules and, depending on the contents of the will, many foreigners living in Thailand make a second will to cover overseas.  It’s best to seek legal advice on whether this is necessary. For example, Brits in Thailand making a will to cover UK assets must bear in mind that there are separate probate rules for the UK and for the offshore Channel Isles and Isle of Man which are part of the British Isles but not technically part of the UK.

Q:  How can I inherit a Thai condominium unit?

Foreigners can purchase outright a Thai condominium unit provided that not more than 49 percent of them are owned by a non-Thai national.  If the foreign quota is full, then the foreign buyer can establish a company with himself or herself as a minority shareholder.  To avoid protracted difficulties, the purchaser should ensure a proper will is drawn up to stand the scrutiny of the Thai probate judge.  The executor will be required to attend the court even if that involves overseas travel.

When the purchaser of a totally-owned condo unit dies, it is fairly easy to transfer ownership.  After probate, the beneficiary will need to contact the juristic person at the condominium building to check that all bills, such as water or electricity or community charge, are full paid up.  This is because, when someone dies, the local bank account is often frozen and direct debits remain unpaid.  The lawyer will then request the Land Office to transfer ownership as mandated in the final will.  The Land Office typically will require written confirmation from the juristic person that there are no outstanding bills.

If the unit is not owned outright, but has been bought in the name of a company with the purchaser as a minority shareholder, then the beneficiary will only be able to inherit the deceased’s shares.  We are often asked if it is possible to transfer such a unit to sole ownership.  The answer is that this depends.

If the number of units in the condominium is already 49 percent, then the answer is usually no.  But if the total is less than 49 percent, then the inheritor can contact the juristic person or the appropriate committee at the condominium to seek permission to do just that.  Once agreement is reached in writing, the Land Office will be requested to make the sought-after change of ownership.  The closure of the company is not automatic and is subject to a separate procedure.  We have all the regulations to hand in what can be a complex undertaking.