Lawyer's Language: Home sweet home

Lawyer Caroline Walsh answers your questions about coping with the Israeli legal system.

Netanya apartment 311 (photo credit: Avi Sasa )
Netanya apartment 311
(photo credit: Avi Sasa )
Although many of us have a smattering or even a fairly good grasp of Hebrew for every-day purposes, when it comes to official documents it's almost impossible to make sense of these in a foreign language. If your mother- tongue is not Hebrew but you live or have interests in Israel, you may have accepted the fact you will be forced to sign documents in Hebrew which you don't understand – but is that wise? You don’t need a lawyer to tell you the answer is no and, more than that, it's often not really necessary. Did you know that you can get bank statements in English and that most of the Israeli banks can give you access to their on-line services in English as well?
When it comes to legally-binding documents, even more caution should be exercised. You should certainly not sign anything in Hebrew if you don't fully understand the contents or implications, especially if you have the option to sign in English.
Q: We are selling our apartment in Raanana and the buyers are also English speakers. Can we draw up the contract in English?
A: In most cases, yes. If the property you are selling is built on private land registered at the Land Registry and if the buyers are happy to have the contract drawn up in English, there is no reason why you should not do so. The sale contract does not have to be filed to transfer ownership, the deeds of sale are sufficient for this. These are standard one-page documents which your lawyer will prepare with details of the property and the transaction. You will need to submit the contract to the Registry to register a restriction in favor of the buyers, but most branches of the Land Registry (Tabu) accept documents in either Hebrew, Arabic or English. For the same reason, if you wish to sign a power of attorney authorizing your lawyer to act on your behalf in the sale, this can also be in English.
If the property is not registered at the Land Registry, or is not on private land, then you may need to have a contract in Hebrew. If so, your lawyer should provide you with a translation of the salient points. Alternatively, you could use a contract in English and have this translated and notarized. For example, although most properties in Raanana are privately owned, in areas such as Bet Shemesh the land is owned through the Israel Lands Authority which does not accept documents in English. In addition, if you are buying a new apartment which will not yet have been registered at the Land Registry, your lawyer will need to ask the developers whether they will accept documents in English. If not, in larger projects where there are several foreign buyers, the developers will often agree to have the paperwork translated for you.
Q: I own an apartment in Israel and have been told that I should have a second Will to cover only my Israeli property, but I don't speak Hebrew. Do you recommend having a separate Will and can it be in English?
A: A Will which is valid abroad will usually be valid in Israel but there are several reasons why you may wish to have a separate Will just for your Israeli property. Firstly, foreign probate orders are not recognized here in Israel and so your heirs will need to apply for a separate order here in Israel in any event. As foreign Wills are often lengthy and complex – for example, due to tax planning provisions - the Israeli courts are unlikely to accept these without requiring a notarized translation of the whole Will. You might also wish to appoint different executors to manage your estate here in Israel, particularly since the Israeli courts will not appoint non-resident executors. In addition, having a separate Will allows an application to be filed in Israel without waiting for procedures abroad to be completed.
If you do decide to draw up a separate Will for your Israeli property, I strongly recommend that is it drafted in English. It is vitally important that you understand exactly what you are signing. Since such Wills are usually simple and concise, the Israeli courts will often accept these in English without requiring a translation into Hebrew. Even if a Hebrew version is required at a later stage, a notarized translation can be prepared on the basis of your original will which will be accepted by all the relevant authorities.
An important reminder: If you do decide to draft a separate Will for your Israeli assets, you must make it clear that this does not revoke any other Wills you have for your property outside Israel.
This article is presented for your general information and does not constitute legal advice. You should obtain specific legal advice about your estate before taking (or deciding not to take) any action. Please contact Caroline for further information.© SaftWalsh 2011. All rights reserved.