Legal advice on succession law, Costa Rica, Testaments


Why is it important to make a will?

It is important that people, regardless of their assets, be inherited, make a document with their last will, that is, how they want those goods to be inherited and distributed once they die (successions). In your will, the testator can inherit family, friends or acquaintances:

  • Properties.
  • Money.
  • Vehicles.
  • Artworks.
  • Jewelry.
  • Businesses.
  • Houses or apartments, etc.

Making a will avoids conflicts between family members or close associates since the last will of the person who left their assets in full use of faculties and going to the respective legal means for the will to be valid before the law must be respected.

In his will, the person can define universal heirs to distribute the goods in an equitable way, or define the legacy of specific goods, for example: it can indicate that a house will pass into the hands of a child and that a grandchild will inherit a business.

What is a closed will?

The testator writes the closed will, so its content is confidential.


  • It can be written by hand or using a computer.
  • The closed will bears the signature of the testator.
  • It must be presented before a Notary Public to give it legal validity: in a sealed envelope.
  • The presentation before the Notary Public is also performed in the company of at least two witnesses.
  • The Notary will add to the cover of the envelope a public deed stating that he received the document from the hands of the testator; the number of pages that make up the will as indicated by the testator; and if it has blots or annotations.
  • The Notary, the testator and the witnesses, signs the envelope and the public deed with the annotations.
  • Once the legal formalities are completed, the testament and the public deed are in the hands of the Notary or returned to the testator, who will safeguard the documents, as he considers appropriate.
  • The closed will, will be opened only after the death of the testator and in the presence of a civil judge.

What is an open will?

The open will is prepared in the company of a Notary Public and three witnesses. Some of its characteristics are:

  • It is written in public deed.
  • It is read by the Notary before the testator and the witnesses. Or, by the person designated by the testator.
  • Indicates the exact date (day, month and year), time and place where the testament was prepared.
  • All the parties present sign the will: Testator, witnesses and Notary.
  • The Notary proceeds to take the will to the National Archive where it will remain in custody. The fact that the will is protected in the National Archive avoids possible alterations by third parties.

Who cannot make a will?

The Civil Code of Costa Rica specifies that minors under 15 years of age and people with a mental disability cannot make a will. In addition, those who cannot read or write cannot elaborate a closed will.

What happens if I do not leave a written and inscribed will?

If a person dies without having a will, his assets pass to his legitimate heirs, in the following order of priority:

  • Children.
  • Parents.
  • Couple, either wife or partner.

If any of the legitimate heirs is missing, the assets will be distribute in this order:

  • Grandparents of the testator.
  • Legitimate brothers.
  • Children of legitimate brothers.
  • The Boards of Education where the testator has assets

What is a testamentary trust?

A testamentary trust is one in which the assets are transferred to a third party who will act as administrator thereof; the administrator will follow the instructions in the management of the assets to generate profits that will eventually be received by the heirs and that the will of the trustor is fulfilled.

The administrator of the testamentary trust can be any person to whom the testator transmits his assets (property, shares in a company, money or investments, among others), for a certain time, so that he manages them in an appropriate manner and his legacy is never wasted Therefore, the figures of the testamentary trust are:

  • Settlor: testator
  • Trustee: administrator = financial institution or bank
  • Trustee-Beneficiary: heir or heirs