My Thai wife has two young children from a previous long-term relationship with a Thai man who is now dead. Even though my wife never took his last name, the children did. However, the children’s birth certificate proves she is the mother. I am American and my wife changed her last name to mine when we married. Her land and house deeds are in her new last name. If the children are not automatically entitled to inherit her land because their surname is different, can my wife make a will and name the children as the beneficiaries? If not, what else can we do to ensure the children inherit?

Quin, Saudi Arabia

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Thai law states that, if there is no will, a deceased person’s property is divided among the surviving immediate family, according to certain percentages. Apart from the children, the deceased’s brothers and sisters, mother, father and spouse also have rights to the estate. Thus, so long as the children can prove their lineage, they will receive their statutory percentage. Much better is for your wife to write a last will and testament. The specific provisions of a will override the statutory rules governing the distribution of an inheritance. One thing should be borne in mind: foreigners may not own land in Thailand, so a foreign spouse may not inherit land. The will should therefore state that the land must be sold so that the spouse may receive the proceeds from the sale.

Sam Fauma, International Law Office

Answered on February 12, 2001.
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