Many UK people have in recent times invested in Real Estate in Spain, and now enjoy life in the sun during holiday periods or permanently living here.
A great many people are no longer young and their expectation of life is obviously reduced as unfortunately it is a human condition that sooner or later death arrives.
For those of you who are in their golden years and also for those who would like to save their heirs a legal entanglement upon their death it is strongly advisable to make a Spanish Will for UK people, which will facilitate a speedy and smooth transfer of your assets left in Spain.
The Will is an institution whereby a person ("The Testator")disposes of his assets upon his death to certain persons ("Heirs").
It has existed in practically all ancient civilisations and is at present available as an useful tool for inheritance purposes in the majority legislations worldwide.
In the case of UK people having assets in Spain the advantage of making a Spanish Will is mainly to save all of the administrative backlog for their heirs upon their death.
This means that on death of the Testator, the Spanish part of the Estate can be wound up without delay and simultaneously the UK Estate.
Apart from the Spanish Will, only two other documents will be required to transfer the assets in Spain to the heirs :
1) The Death Certificate from the Testator which must be translated into Spanish by a certified translator, notarised and legalised at the Foreign Office in London.
2) A Certificate from the Central Last Will Registry in Madrid confirming that the Testator has left a Will made before a Public Notary, being the recorded last will left by the testator. (The Central Last Will Registry is an official registry where all Wills executed before Spanish Notaries are recorded)
Upon the execution of a Spanish Will, the attesting Notary must compulsory remit a note to the Registry with information of the name of the Testator, the date of execution and the protocol number of the Will.
If a testator has executed a second or further Will, under Spanish Law the latter will automatically revoke any former Will, unless otherwise specifically provided for by the testator and therefore in the afore referred Registry the last Will left by the Testator in Spain will always appear.
In such Registry Wills executed in the UK before a Notary Public can also be registered providing the Will is drawn up in Spanish Language or has been duly translated into Spanish and legalised by the Foreign Office.
With the two documents and a notarised copy of the Spanish Will the appointed heirs or someone with Power of Attorney, usually a Lawyer, can proceed with the execution of the Deed of Declaration and Acceptance of Inheritance ("Escritura de Declaración o Manifestación de Herencia") before a Notary Public.
Whereby the assets of the Testator left by way of the Will are transferred to the appointed Heirs.
The said Deed has to be submitted for the payment of the Death Duty before the Spanish Revenue within six months of the demise and once the tax has been paid it is is lodged with the Land Registry for final registration of the assets in the name of the heirs.
If the deceased person has not left a Spanish Will to govern the transfer of their assets on their death, the normal scenario the Heirs will face is that they contact a firm of UK Solicitors in order to wind up the UK Estate. If there is an UK will and same has provisions for the Spanish assets a Grant of Probate will have to be obtained through the British Courts ratifying who are the legal heirs to the part of the Estate left in Spain.
If no Will was ever left by the deceased person the corresponding intestacy proceedings will have to be followed through the Courts in the UK in order to obtain a Resolution declaring who are the legal heirs to the Estate.
The Grant of Probate or whatever the Resolution declaring who the Heirs are has to be translated by a certified translator to the Spanish Language, Notarised and legalised by the Foreign Office.
By the time the Heirs have gone through this lengthy and costly process the six month statutory period to make the Death Duty Tax return in Spain for the Spanish Assets will most likely be over and surcharges and penalties will have accrued to the Tax Bill.
Thus, the advice for every UK property owner in Spain is to make a Spanish Will.
Law governing the Inheritance
The International Law provisions of the Spanish Civil Code provides for the Law of the Nationality of the demised person to be the Law governing all Inheritance Matters relating to the said person.
This means in case of an UK Citizen, UK Law will be applicable to his Inheritance and in particular to his Spanish Estate.
UK law provides for the principle of freedom to testate for the testator.
Formalities in the Execution of a Spanish Will
I shall refer to the most common type of Will in Spain which is the Open Will ("Testamento Abierto") which is signed by the Testator before a Notary Public.
An UK person executing a Will before a Spanish Notary will have to use a translator who will translate the terms of the will to English and who will sign the Will as well. The translator in most cases will be the lawyer assisting his client in this matter.
The Will is a personal and individual act which means that it has to be signed personally by the Testator and not by someone with power of attorney from him and that two persons cannot execute the same will, therefore the joint will is not valid under Spanish Law.
The Notary will read the last Will as given by the Testator and this, the Notary and the translator will subsequently sign the Will.
The Notary will make reference in the document to the exact time and date of execution of the Will.
In certain cases the use of witnesses is required as provided for in the Law or when the Notary or the Testator so require.
The Notary will declare in the Will that he has identified the Testator by his passport and that the latter has enough legal capacity for the execution of the Will.
All the afore referred formalities have to be completed in one sole act and if same are not complied with the Will can be declared null and void.
In case the Will is signed before an UK Notary Public, the formalities of the place of execution ("Locus Regit Actum") will be applicable i.e. British Law and therefore the need of Witnesses and any other formalities as required by British Law will have to be complied with.
The Will executed in the UK will have to be executed in bilingual form and legalised by the Foreign Office and further registered in the Last Will Registry in Madrid.
Proposal for a Spanish Will
Before we consider the concrete proposal, one has to part with an important aspect of the Spanish Will which is that it must be confined to the Spanish Assets which means that specific mention will be made in the Spanish Will that any other Will executed by the Testator for his remaining assets elsewhere will not be revoked by the Spanish Will.
The Notary will make the warning to the UK Testator that the latter states that the dispositions made in the Spanish Will can be made in accordance to his National Law which is applicable to his Inheritance.
If we consider the most normal scenario a couple with children and a Spanish Property that has been registered in the name of the couple.
Normally the couple would leave in their respective Will all their assets, interests and rights in Spain to each other.
So when one of the couple dies the assets as per the Will go to their partner, if they both die together, the appointed heir will be substituted by their children in equal shares.
It is very important to include the substitution clause in the Will in order to avoid intestacy proceedings.
Any other provisions are also valid so long as they respect UK Law and the applicable regulations as expressly required by Spanish Law and it is not unusual to see in our practice that Properties are left to Foundations or Charities and some pet lovers leave a few thousand pounds to a dog with specific provisions for its burial and with the most eccentric literature setting out the terms of the Will.
Therefore, if UK people want to enjoy their property in sunny Spain with a trouble-free mind, they would be well advised to make a Spanish Will.
And after that, they can catch a flight without worrying what will happen to their Spanish assets if the plane crashes- although I suppose that would be the least of their problems.
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Please note the information provided in this article is of general knowledge only and is not to be construed or intended as substitute for professional legal advice.