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7 Facts about Inheritance Tax in Japan for Foreigners

The inheritance tax in Japan has a rich and complex history, evolving significantly over the years. 

Initiated in the late 19th century, it has undergone several revisions to adapt to economic, demographic, and international changes. Japan’s inheritance tax rates are among the highest globally, making it crucial to understand its nuances.

Comprehending this tax is crucial to safeguarding your assets, minimizing tax liability, and ensuring smooth succession.

If you have any questions or want to invest as an expat or high-net-worth individual, you can email me (advice@adamfayed.com) or use these contact options.

This article isn’t formal legal, tax or financial advice.

Understanding the Basics: Japan’s Inheritance Tax System

The c is the principal law governing inheritance tax. 

Over the years, Japan has updated these laws to accommodate economic changes, most notably with the 2015 tax reform. This increased the maximum tax rate to 55% and expanded the tax base to include long-term foreign residents and Japanese nationals living abroad.

It plays a vital role in promoting wealth redistribution and social equity. With Japan’s ageing population and wealth concentration, this tax becomes even more significant. It discourages excessive wealth accumulation within a few families, allowing a more equitable distribution of resources across society.

Foreigners residing in Japan or those with Japanese assets need to be aware of these laws. 

Since the 2015 reform, if a foreigner resides in Japan for more than ten years, worldwide assets become subject to inheritance tax in Japan. Therefore, both your assets within Japan and overseas can potentially attract tax.

Inheritance Tax in Japan
The Japanese tax authorities primarily determine your inheritance tax liability based on your “domicile” in Japan.

Who is Liable? Understanding Inheritance Tax Liability in Japan for Foreigners

Understanding the concept of domicile and your residential status plays a crucial role in assessing your inheritance tax liability in Japan.

Unpacking the Concept of Domicile

The Japanese tax authorities primarily determine your inheritance tax liability based on your “domicile” in Japan. Domicile, in simple terms, refers to your primary place of residence or your home country. 

If the deceased had a domicile in Japan at the time of their death, the heir would be subject to Japanese inheritance tax on the worldwide assets they inherit.

Impact of Temporary and Permanent Resident Status

Another important determinant is whether you are a temporary or permanent resident. 

If you’ve lived in Japan for less than 10 out of the past 15 years, you are considered a non-permanent resident. Non-permanent residents only need to pay inheritance tax on assets located in Japan. 

However, if you’ve been in Japan for ten or more out of the past 15 years, you are considered a permanent resident and will be liable for inheritance tax on global assets you inherit from a decedent who was also a permanent resident in Japan.

Scope of Inheritance Tax for Foreigners

The scope of inheritance tax in Japan varies based on the specific circumstances surrounding the inheritance. As a foreigner, it’s important to understand the difference between global and local inheritances.

Global Inheritance

Global inheritance refers to all properties and assets located both within and outside Japan. If the deceased was a permanent resident of Japan or had their domicile in Japan, then the inheritance tax in Japan applies to global inheritance. 

This means that no matter where the assets are located, they will be subject to Japanese inheritance tax.

Local Inheritance

Local inheritance, on the other hand, refers to properties and assets located within Japan only. Non-permanent residents, or those who haven’t established their domicile in Japan, will only need to pay inheritance tax on the assets located within Japan. 

This ensures that the Japanese authorities can’t impose taxes on assets located outside Japan for non-permanent residents or those without a Japanese domicile.

Calculation Essentials: How Inheritance Tax is Assessed in Japan

Under Japan’s robust taxation system, assessing inheritance tax may seem challenging, especially for foreigners. 

To properly compute the inheritance tax in Japan, you first need to establish the taxable base. This process has two major steps: determining the market value of inherited properties and understanding the deductions and allowances you can claim.

Market Value of Inherited Properties

The first step in assessing the inheritance tax in Japan is to determine the market value of the inherited properties. 

Market value refers to the price at which the property would sell under normal conditions. This applies to all types of inherited assets, including real estate, shares of stock, and even personal possessions.

The value of the property at the time of the benefactor’s death serves as the basis for computation. To accurately determine this, you might need a property appraiser’s assistance.

Deductions and Allowances

After establishing the market value of the inherited properties, you can now account for deductions and allowances. Japan‘s inheritance tax law allows for certain deductions, which can significantly reduce the taxable base.

These deductions include debts and expenses related to the deceased. This covers outstanding liabilities, funeral expenses, and even the costs incurred in settling the estate.

Additionally, there is a basic deduction of JPY 30 million plus JPY 6 million per heir. This allowance is intended to lessen the tax burden on the heirs.

Tax Rates and Progressive Scale

Once you’ve determined the taxable base, you can then apply the appropriate tax rate. The inheritance tax in Japan operates on a progressive scale, meaning the tax rate increases as the taxable base does.

Existing Tax Rate Tiers

Japan’s tax rate tiers for inheritance tax range from 10% to 55%. The applicable tax rate is calculated for each portion within the respective tax brackets, not the total amount of the inheritance.

  • Up to JPY 10 million: 10%
  • Over JPY 10 million to JPY 30 million: 15%
  • Over JPY 30 million to JPY 50 million: 20%
  • Over JPY 50 million to JPY 100 million: 30%
  • Over JPY 100 million to JPY 200 million: 40%
  • Over JPY 200 million to JPY 300 million: 45%
  • Over JPY 300 million to JPY 600 million: 50%
  • Over JPY 600 million: 55%

In 2015, Japan implemented a significant tax reform that affected the inheritance tax landscape. It reduced the basic tax allowance from JPY 50 million to JPY 30 million and increased the top tax rate from 50% to 55%.

This reform led to an increase in the inheritance tax burden for many heirs. Particularly, foreigners who inherit assets in Japan should be aware of this when planning their tax strategy.

Inheritance Tax in Japan
In an effort to support continuous business operations, Japan’s inheritance tax system includes provisions for business succession

Uncovering the Common Exceptions and Exemptions to Inheritance Tax in Japan

Understanding the exceptions and exemptions to the inheritance tax in Japan can help you mitigate the potential financial burden. Both property-related and foreigner-specific exceptions exist that can significantly reduce the tax amount.

Property Exceptions

Delving into property exceptions, you will find there are instances where certain assets can avoid or lessen the burden of inheritance tax.

Business Succession Exception

In an effort to support continuous business operations, Japan’s inheritance tax system includes provisions for business succession. 

If the inherited property is a family business, there’s a possibility that it can be exempt from inheritance tax. These exemptions aim to prevent the need for selling off businesses to pay the tax. 

However, there are criteria to meet, such as the heir being actively involved in the business before and after the inheritance. Always consult a tax professional to understand if your situation qualifies for this exception.

Spousal Inheritance Exception

Japan’s inheritance tax system also accounts for the surviving spouse’s rights and financial security. The Spousal Inheritance Exception allows a certain portion of the spouse’s inheritance to be tax-free. 

The tax-free amount can be up to 160 million yen plus a basic exemption. This can provide significant relief for the surviving spouse, ensuring their financial stability.

Foreigner-Specific Exemptions

Aside from property exceptions, the inheritance tax in Japan includes exemptions specifically designed for foreigners. These rules help prevent undue financial burdens for non-residents who inherit property in Japan.

Double Tax Treaties

Japan has entered into Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAAs) with various countries. These treaties can protect a foreign national from being taxed twice for the same asset: once in their home country and once in Japan. 

Each treaty varies, so it’s important to understand the specific agreement between Japan and your home country. This way, you can potentially avoid paying the full amount of inheritance tax in Japan and instead pay it in your home country or vice versa.

Special Provisions for Non-Residents

Japan’s Inheritance Tax Act includes special provisions for non-residents, particularly those who have not resided in Japan for more than ten years within the last 15 years before the inheritance. 

These individuals might only be taxed on the property located in Japan, not on their worldwide assets. This rule is subject to change, so it is important to consult with a tax professional to understand your position.

Essential Steps in Filing and Paying Inheritance Tax in Japan

Navigating the process of filing and paying inheritance tax in Japan is a crucial part of proper tax management. Let’s break down these steps and gain a clearer understanding of the system.

Inheritance tax in Japan becomes payable upon the death of a person. As a responsible beneficiary, you need to be aware of the specifics, such as filing deadlines and the necessary documents.

Deadlines for Filing

You have ten months from the end of the month in which the benefactor passed away to file your inheritance tax return. For instance, if a benefactor died on January 15, 2023, you would need to submit your inheritance tax filing by November 30, 2023.

Required Documents

Documents necessary for filing inheritance tax in Japan include a list of properties and their assessed value, details of the decedent, a certified copy of the family register, and copies of the death certificate.

If properties are located overseas, you will also need relevant documents to prove the value of those properties.

Payment Options and Penalties

You should also be familiar with the payment options available to you and the penalties that you may face for late filing or non-payment of inheritance tax in Japan.

Payment Plans and Installments

If you find yourself unable to pay the entire amount of inheritance tax in Japan in a single payment, don’t panic. Japan’s tax law allows taxpayers to pay their tax liabilities in instalments. 

You can choose to pay the tax over a period of up to ten years, provided the amount exceeds a certain threshold.

Penalties for Late Filing or Non-Payment

Be aware that if you fail to meet the filing deadline or don’t make the necessary payments on time, you may face penalties. 

A delay in filing the inheritance tax return in Japan may result in a late filing surcharge, which can be 10% or more of the tax due.

If you fail to pay the tax, you could face a delinquency charge, which accrues at a percentage rate from the due date until the tax is paid in full.

Inheritance Tax in Japan
One of the methods to minimize inheritance tax in Japan is to gift assets before death.

Tips and Strategies to Minimize Inheritance Tax in Japan

Understanding how to navigate the inheritance tax in Japan can feel overwhelming. To help you manage this, we have two main approaches: legal tax avoidance strategies and professional assistance.

Legal Tax Avoidance Strategies

Legal tax avoidance is a way to reduce your tax liability within the boundaries of the law. Let’s look at two methods that may be applicable in Japan.

Gifting Before Death

One of the methods to minimize inheritance tax in Japan is to gift assets before death. Japan has a separate tax called the “gift tax,” but the rates are generally lower than those of the inheritance tax. 

By gifting your assets before death, you can distribute your estate in a way that can result in lower tax liability overall. However, be mindful of the exemptions and the tax bracket, as large gifts might push you into a higher tax bracket.

Offshore Trusts

Another strategy involves the use of offshore trusts. These are trusts established in a foreign country, often in jurisdictions with more favorable tax laws. 

It’s a complex strategy and may not be suitable for everyone, so careful consideration and professional advice are essential before proceeding.

Consulting a Tax Professional

The complexities of the inheritance tax in Japan necessitate the need for professional help.

Benefits of Professional Assistance

Professional assistance can guide you through the intricacies of inheritance tax law and provide you with customized advice based on your unique circumstances. 

A tax advisor can help you plan your estate to minimize inheritance tax, ensure legal compliance, and guide you through the process of filing and paying taxes. 

They will also stay updated with the latest changes in the law, ensuring that your estate planning strategy remains effective and legal.

Finding a Reliable Tax Advisor in Japan

When looking for a tax advisor, consider their experience, knowledge about inheritance tax in Japan, and their ability to communicate effectively in your language. 

Ask for referrals from your network or look for reviews online. You can also reach out to international law firms or accounting firms in Japan that offer tax advisory services.

Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding the inheritance tax in Japan, who is liable, how it is calculated, and the exceptions and exemptions is critical for any foreigner with assets in Japan. By employing strategies such as gifting before death or using offshore trusts, you can legally minimize the potential tax burden on your heirs.

However, due to the complexity of the inheritance tax laws in Japan, seeking the help of a professional tax advisor can be incredibly beneficial. They can provide tailored advice to ensure you are making the best decisions for your situation. With proper planning and professional help, you can navigate the inheritance tax in Japan with confidence and peace of mind.

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Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 760.2 million answer views on Quora.com, a widely sold book on Amazon, and a contributor on Forbes.

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