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When a foreign citizen owning assets in Spain dies, there are several things that the heirs need to know in order to properly process the inheritance of the Spanish possessions.

A common mistake is to process the inheritance in the home country forgetting to handle the inheritance of the Spanish assets with the Spanish authorities. This can lead to several problems including the payment of fines or the loss of the assets.

The Spanish Succession laws

Under Article  9.8 of the Spanish Civil code: “Inheritance through death will be regulated by the National law of the deceased person in question at the time of their death, whatever the nature of their possessions and whatever country they may be in. The arrangements made in the Will along with the testator’s wishes and in accordance with the National law of the testator at the time of the drawing up of the Will, will remain valid, even if another law of succession exists. The national law that regulates the marriage will regulate the right of succession of the surviving spouse.

The basic principle of universality governs successions in Spain. In practice this means that only one law can govern the inheritance of the totality of assets owned by the deceased.

There might be conflicts between national laws. A typical example is with the English law. English inheritance law states that the applicable inheritance law for real estate is the law of the last place of residence. This is the case if the deceased is a British citizen resident in Spain. While English law differentiates between personal property and real estate, Spanish law does not. A case-by-case study will be needed every time.

Wills in Spain

Spanish law allows heirs a 6 month limit as from the time of death, to process the deceased’s inheritance and to pay Spanish inheritance taxes. If the foreign citizen does not have a Will registered in Spain or is intestate i.e. without a Will, the process to legalize the foreign paperwork will be long and complicated.

The process

In order to start the process the heirs should name a legal representative in Spain. It’s normal to name the Spanish Lawyer as legal representative who will follow up the process in Spain.

In order to start the process the following documents will be needed:

  1. A power of attorney, from all the heirs in favour of the Lawyer. If the heirs cannot come to Spain to sign a power of attorney, they can sign the document in their own country.
  2. The death certificate. If the death certificate is not issued in Spain, it will have to be apostilled and translated by an official translator where necessary.
  3. One or more documents certifying the relationship between the heir and the deceased person. (Normally we use a certificate from the civil registry).
  4. Copy of the Spanish Will, if any.
  5. List of the Spanish assets and the related documents e.g.:
    1. Deeds and certificates proving the cadastral value of the properties.
    2. Certificates from the bank, showing the balance in the deceased’s accounts at the time of the death.
    3. Certificate of ownership of vehicles registered in Spain.
  6. Certificate of the foreign inheritance law applicable to the case.
  7. Copy of the passports of the heirs, certified by a Notary Public.
  8. Copy of the NIE of each heir.

When there is no Spanish Will

If the only known Will is foreign or if the deceased died intestate (without a will) the process will be more complicated. Many countries do not have a centralized Wills registry. If the heirs can not agree on the division of the inheritance then a foreign court decision is normally requested. Spain ratified EU regulation no. 44/2001 adopted by the council of the European Community meaning that the foreign decision can be enforced in Spain. Alternatively a foreign notary public can certify how the inheritance has been divided among the heirs in the deceased’s home country.

Your Spanish Lawyer will guide you through the inheritance process.

The inheritance process for foreign owned assets is long and complicated. This task can be eased with the help of a Spanish lawyer specialised in international inheritance processes.

Remember that:

  • All foreign documents will have to be translated into Spanish by an official translator and legalised (i.e. they will need an apostille).
  • The power of attorney from the heirs in favour of the lawyer dealing with the process will have to be signed by all heirs; of course each heir can have a different lawyer.
  • Having a Spanish Will greatly simplify the process.
  • The six-month deadline given by Spanish authorities is rather short for this kind of process. Start the process as soon as possible, by contacting a Spanish lawyer. It will take time to gather all the necessary paperwork and to submit it to the authorities.