Protect Your Family: Are You Prepared?
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
The death of a loved one takes many people by surprise. Besides the emotional burden and grief, one suddenly has to deal with legal, financial and administrative procedures, especially if the deceased did not have his/her assets organized. Everyday life can very quickly confront us with situations in which it is absolutely necessary to consult a legal expert. Knowledge edge in legal matters helps you to make an informed decision and protect not only your investment and assets, but also your family, heirs, and loved ones.
Two case studies from our legal practice regarding inheritance law in Panama.
Let's make an analysis of two "figurative" case studies with their respective pseudonyms: Due to unpredictable circumstances, Michael Bauer arrives at the hospital in critical condition. He and his wife Carola moved from Canada to Chiriqui over three years ago. While the doctors try to establish his health status, Michael asks his lawyer to prepare the necessary documents to leave "everything in order”, and transfer his share of the family home located in an exclusive residential area in Boquete to his wife.
I have a will, why do I need a foundation?
Michael never wanted to create a foundation to protect his family's assets because he felt it was "too expensive" and an "unnecessary" expense. Unfortunately, Michael passes away before he could sign the legal papers. He leaves a vehicle (worth $10,000), his share of the house (worth $300,000 in total) in Boquete and a personal savings account at a local bank.
There is a formal will signed before a Notary Public in Panama, declaring his wife Carola as the sole heir. She feels alone in Panama and wants to sell everything fast in order to return to Canada. However, two long years go by before she is able to transfer the title of the car and her deceased husband’s share of the house in Boquete to her name, and finally put the property and vehicle up for sale. But what happened? And, how could they have avoided this situation?
Foto: pixabay.com// congerdesign
Inheritance Law in Panama and its pitfalls
The delay in the inheritance procedure is due to the legal basis in Panama. If the deceased had assets within Panama, in his own personal name, regardless of whether or not he has a will, a probate proceeding must be completed. In order to do so, it is necessary to hire a lawyer and to file a probate lawsuit (tested if there is a will, or intestate if there is no will, which in practice is almost the same procedure) before a judge in Panama.
Courts and Judges
Your file must go through different stages and hands in the court and once all the formalities are completed the judge will make a decision and assign the final beneficiary(ies). Legal procedures in Panamanian courts take their time, and even under the best conditions, it will take at least two years until your heirs have the right to transfer your assets to their names so that they can finally sell them. In the meantime, they will have to pay for expenses, lawyer's fees (15% of the total inherited assets according to the minimum lawyer's fee in Panama), among others.
On the other hand, our second “figurative” case study is the case of Max Mueller. He has been a part-time resident of Panama for five years. Max has been traveling back and forth between Panama and Germany, but now it is too exhausting, his health is not good. Mr. Mueller owns a piece of land in Las Lajas (with a value of 40,000US$) in the name of a foundation, and a personal savings account at a local bank. On his last trip, he spoke with the bank official and filled out a form to leave his son Robert as the final beneficiary of the account. His lawyer has an original copy of his foundation's by-laws that declare Robert as the secondary beneficiary and secondary protector of the foundation.
A foundation does not die
After Max passes away in Germany, his son Robert contacts his father's lawyer in Panama. He sends him his father's death certificate, duly apostilled, and a few weeks later he travels to Panama. Since the foundation (which is a legal entity) is the owner of the land in the Public Registry of Panama and the duration of the foundation is perpetual, no lawsuit, process, or legal procedure has to be filed.
Robert now, in his role as universal beneficiary and protector of the foundation, leaves a signed mandate for the sale of the land, and immediately hires the service of a local real estate broker to sell the property. Before returning to Germany, he goes to the local branch of his father’s bank, complies with the internal procedure, and can access the funds in the account.
Create your individual estate plan
A Panamanian Private Interest Foundation (PIF) can ensure that after your death, your estate passes to your chosen beneficiaries without any stressful complications, delays, or litigation. For legal purposes, the assets of a PIF constitute a separate estate from the assets of its founder and the beneficiaries. Just as in a will, the foundation's private by-laws govern the conditions of the PIF. It can be established how the assets will be distributed, and who has control over the administration of the foundation's assets.
It is not required that the Founder be a resident in Panama, and with the telematics, originated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Panama made an effort so that lawyers can create corporations and FIPs without the need for their clients to appear before a Notary Public. The commercial registry of the legal entity is filed electronically, making the registration process more expeditious.
Knowledge edge makes the difference
Carola is hopeful that the title to the house in Boquete will be transferred to her name soon so that the property can be put up for sale. She has already traveled many times to Panama and sometimes she feels tired and exhausted due to so much protocol, stress, and expenses.
Robert received a message from the broker a few weeks ago. There is an interested party who wants to buy the land in Las Lajas. The down payment has been already made and the deal will be closed this week. In a few more days he will receive the funds from the sale in his bank account in Germany.