Are you the executor or beneficiary of an estate of someone who died owning property, bank accounts or other assets in Spain?
See below the main steps to follow when dealing with the inheritance of Spanish assets:
Instruct a Spanish lawyer
The Spanish probate process can be difficult to navigate, particularly if you do not live in Spain or are not a fluent Spanish speaker.
For most people who are dealing with the inheritance of an estate in Spain, it will therefore be necessary to instruct an English-speaking Spanish lawyer specialising in dealing with estate administrations in Spain for non-Spanish clients.
Don't delay seeking advice if you are dealing with an estate which has Spanish assets. It is important to ensure that the Spanish inheritance process is dealt with as soon as possible. Delays in dealing with the Spanish estate can result in additional costs, taxes and penalties being incurred in relation to the Spanish estate.
Power of Attorney
The Spanish inheritance process requires the person dealing with or inheriting from the estate to make a number of personal attendances at various offices in Spain.
If the beneficiaries/ executors of a Spanish estate don't live in Spain or are not able to attend in person, it is usual for them to provide their Spanish lawyer with a Power of Attorney. The Power of Attorney is a legal document signed by executors / beneficiaries which provides the lawyer with the authority to act on their behalf.
The Power of Attorney allows the Spanish lawyer to deal with the entire Spanish legal process without the need for the executors/ beneficiaries to go to Spain.
If the death certificate is not a Spanish death certificate (ie, the deceased did not die in Spain), it may need to ‘legalised’ by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in order for it to be legally recognised/ admissible in Spain.
Sometimes the death certificate will also need to be translated and certified by an official translator.
Spanish will search
It's possible to find out if a person had a Spanish will as Spain has a Central Wills Registry which records the existence of Spanish Wills. It is therefore necessary to undertake a search at the Central Wills Registry in Madrid to confirm whether or not one exists.
It is necessary for all executors and beneficiaries of a Spanish estate to have a Spanish tax/ fiscal number before being able to deal with/ inherit the assets in the Spanish estate. This Spanish tax number is called an NIE Number.
Spanish lawyers who have experience in dealing with non-Spanish clients will usually be able to assist in obtaining the NIE number.
It will be necessary to gather together as much documentation as possible relating to the Spanish assets in the estate. In particular:
- The title deeds for any Spanish properties
- Documentation for Spanish registered cars or other vehicles that were owned by the deceased
- Details of any Spanish bank accounts, shares/ other investments in Spain,
- Details of any Spanish loans, mortgages or other debts in Spain will also be required.
Your lawyer should be able to assist if you do not have all of this information.
The Spanish will, if there is one, will be required. If the deceased had a will prepared in another country which relates to the Spanish assets, then an official sealed copy of a Grant of Probate (or equivalent) obtained in that country may be required. Proof of the beneficiaries’ relationship to the deceased may also be required eg Birth and Marriage Certificates, etc.
Sometimes a Certificate of English Law (also known as an Affidavit) confirming the legal entitlement of the beneficiaries may be required where the estate involves cross-border legal issues.
If your Spanish lawyer is used to dealing with British and other international clients, they may be able to obtain this for you.
Spanish Inheritance Deed
The documents relating to the Spanish estate must to be presented to a Spanish Notary together with a deed confirming the beneficiaries’ acceptance of ?the Spanish inheritance.
The Spanish Inheritance Deed must be signed by the beneficiaries in the presence of the notary in Spain (or by the beneficiaries' lawyer if they have a Power of Attorney in place).
Spanish inheritance taxes
When the Spanish Inheritance Deed has been signed, the Spanish inheritance taxes must be paid.
In addition to Spanish Inheritance tax, another tax called ‘Plus Valia’ may also be payable to the local Spanish town hall if there is a Spanish property in the estate.
For beneficiaries who are not tax resident in Spain, tax payments are required to be made by personal attendance at the central tax office in Madrid. A Spanish lawyer can deal with this on behalf of the beneficiaries under the Power of Attorney.
Payment of Spanish inheritance tax must be made within six months of the date of death. Late payments will accrue interest and payment penalties. It can sometimes be possible to arrange an extension to this deadline but this should be applied for in advance.
Distributing the Spanish assets
Once the Spanish Inheritance Deed has been signed and Spanish inheritance taxes have been paid, applications can be made to the relevant banks, property registry and other organisations with whom the deceased held assets so that they can be distributed to the beneficiaries and the Spanish estate can be finalised.
Author: Sara Janion
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Worldwide Lawyers directly.
Published on 2nd August 2017
(Last updated 21st March 2018)