Pattaya Legal Corner: Pitfalls of making a will in Thailand


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Why is a will necessary?
While it is sometimes possible to obtain court probate without a will, that can be a difficult process for foreigners in particular. Their next-of-kin relatives might well be living thousands of miles from Thailand and dying intestate can create legal pitfalls and dangers of several kinds.

Should a will be in the Thai language?
Yes. A popular practice these days is to draw up a will in Thai with an English translation for convenience. But it is the Thai version which the probate court will accept. The will should name an executor (responsible for carry out the terms) and be witnessed by at least two witnesses. Witnesses cannot be otherwise mentioned in the will.

What should be in a Thai will?
Basically all the principal assets of the deceased should be listed and linked to a named beneficiary. A photocopy of bank books, vehicle registration and property ownership or shareholding should be attached. But it is not necessary to change or amend the will if, for example, a car or motorbike is sold or bought before the death. A good lawyer will know how to cover such eventualities. A will should also specify local cremation or return of body or ashes to home country etc.

What is probate?
Probate is the process by which the Thai court approves the executor to carry out his functions. Without that approval, no bank will release funds and neither the land office nor the vehicle registration office will process terms of the will. The executor, if he or she wishes, can give power of attorney to a Thai lawyer to carry out some duties once probate has been awarded by the court.

What is a family tree?
The probate judge will normally ask about the relatives of the deceased, so it is useful for the will to have a supplementary page giving such details as parents, siblings, children etc. Most wills are not contested, but it is open for disinherited relatives to object to probate in court. However, they must have documentary evidence to back up their complaint to have any chance of success.

Can a Thai will cover overseas assets?
It is sensible to have a separate will for each country where assets exist. A will made in Thailand under Thai regulations could run into trouble in a foreign jurisdiction. Probate regulations can differ from country to country. For example, the regulations in the Isle of Man or the Channel Isles are different from those in either the UK or Thailand.

Can an unmarried partner of the deceased be a beneficiary?
Yes, as long as the will is drawn up correctly and explains the circumstances. Remember that wills can be challenged by disappointed relatives, but the wishes of the testator are paramount in the eyes of the Thai court. If Thailand finally approves gay marriage or civil unions, they would likely simplify the issues for same sex couples.

What are the reasons why wills are invalid?
Most wills go through probate without hassle. The ones that don’t may have format errors, such as lack of signatures, or careless or ambiguous wording. Contested wills are usually overturned only if the complainants can successfully show documentation such as medical reports about the ill health of the testator that could have affected his or her judgment, or allowed third parties to pressurize a sick person. Best to seek legal advice if problems are looming.