Author of The Expat's Guide to Growing Old in Japan
Last week two different members of the RetireJapan community got in touch to tell me about The Expat's Guide to Growing Old in Japan.
Intrigued, I took a look at it, then bought it, read it, and was so impressed that I got in touch with the author and asked if she would be willing to do an interview here on RetireJapan. Thankfully she said yes :)
Wilhelmina Penn lives in Hokkaido and is an experienced writer. In The Expat's Guide she collects information about pensions, health care, housing options for senior citizens, death, and inheritance in Japan.
Much like we try to do here at RetireJapan, Penn provides brief summaries of the important points on each topic along with links to sources of more information. I learned a lot from reading the book but I will definitely be returning to look at the links in more detail as needs arise.
The Expat's Guide is a concise book, but it covers the material well. For anyone getting closer to retirement, I think it would be well worth the price of a couple of coffees to get access to this kind of curated information.
Now, on to the interview:
Hi Wilhelmina, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. We’re thrilled to have you on RetireJapan. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, I’m a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., but I have been growing old in Japan since 1973. Along the way, I’ve taught, translated, been a pumpkin farmer and was the Daily Yomiuri TV columnist for a quarter century before settling down to self-publishing. That’s the great thing about Japan, it really does allow you to try a multitude of things.
What made you decide to write the Expat’s Guide to Growing Old in Japan?
I felt I should stop procrastinating, put my papers in order, and start trying to figure out what growing old in Japan is all about. By writing it all down, I hoped I might be able to help others too. There is really so little information available in English.
Is there anything that surprised you as you were researching the Guide?
Yes, many things. There is just so much to learn. Every time I thought I was almost finished some new aspect of these topics popped up and I went back into research mode. I was also surprised by the fact (although I should have known) that one can inherit debt in Japan. That was eye-opening, and you have just three months to file papers to decline the debt (hoki suru). So you have to be quick about it.
Can you tell us about your retirement plans? What sources of income are you expecting to have?
No, there is nothing much to report. As you’ll notice in the book, long-term financial planning is not a topic I touch on or know much about. I need to start reading your blog regularly.
We’ve been telling people that they need to make a foreign Will if they are not Japanese, is this correct or have we misunderstood?
Everyone’s situation is unique and one really should consult a lawyer, but I think, generally, this is good advice. I recently attended a presentation where the guest speaker was a lawyer. She recommended making two wills with the exact same content---one in
Japan and one in your home country. Probably, this would cover all bases. Evidently, even for lawyers, the process of figuring out just who has jurisdiction can be pretty tough. This is especially true if one is from the U.S. where each state has its own laws, and they first have to determine which state is your home state for legal purposes.
For those who have family living outside Japan, the lawyer who spoke recommended a notary-deed will over a holographic will. With a handwritten will, inheritors would likely have to come to Japan to attend the Family Court reading of the will. With a notary-deed will, this is not necessary.
It could be said that so far not many foreigners have retired in Japan, but that this will change in the future as current foreign residents get older. Do you agree, and do you think things will be better or worse in the future for non-Japanese retirees?
I think quite a few long-term residents are retiring here already. Certainly most of the people I have known over the years are still here. Once one is settled in, it takes a lot of energy to uproot and start over again unless you have been planning this all along and bought a retirement property abroad or made other long-term plans. I have no idea whether it will be better or worse for non-Japanese retirees in future. All we can do is educate ourselves to how the system works, calculate our own needs and then plan accordingly.
Any final tips for our readers?
I hope the book will be a help as you figure out what is best for you and your family. And, oh yes, one thing I forgot to put in the book: if you are single with no relatives to inherit your wealth and you die in Japan without a will, all your assets will go to the Japanese government upon your death. Make a will.
Thank you, Wilhelmina, for taking the time to answer our questions and be featured on the RetireJapan blog today. I'm sure a lot of our readers will benefit from your research.
Definitely consider picking up a copy of the book if you are planning to be in Japan as you grow old :)