Making a Will and EU Succession Planning in Spain/Europe
By Chris Burke
This article is published on: 15th June 2016
The Laws on making a Will in Spain/Europe changed on the 17th August 2015. These changes could greatly affect what would happen to someone’s estate/inheritance when they die and it’s therefore important you understand what these are and how they could affect you.
The reason for these changes in that is essence European states have differing laws on who inherits an estate. Many of these are complicated and unclear, making it uncertain who will inherit exactly what.
For this purpose, EU Succession Regulation introduces common rules on which State’s laws apply if there is a conflict between countries’ succession laws.
The following countries are bound by the new regulation:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.
Notable Absentee’s are the UK, Ireland and Denmark.
Where you are ‘habitually resident’ that country’s laws will apply
To give you an example, a person dies leaving assets in France, Spain, and Germany and resides here in Spain. Due to the fact they are resident in Spain, the assets will be governed by Spanish law.
So what are the rules of Habitual Residence?
How long you are in and how often you visit a state/country as well as the conditions and reasons for you being there. Simply put, for most people, more than 183 days in one country, living or retired there makes it your main residence.
Making a Choice of Law
This default position can be overridden if you choose to apply the law of your nationality via a Will. For example – a German national dies leaving assets in France, Spain, and Germany. They are habitually resident in Spain but have stated in their Will that German law will apply to their estate. All of their assets will be governed by German law.
What about the UK?
As the UK is not bound by the Regulation, UK assets can never be governed by the law of another EU state. However, those states bound by the Regulation have to allow the application of UK laws to assets in their state if someone so chooses.
How might this affect me?
Many EU states have laws of ‘forced heirship’ under which certain assets (such as holiday property) can only be inherited by certain people. The inheritance laws in England and Wales allow you greater freedom to leave your estate to whomever you wish when you die. If you have assets in any of the states bound by the Regulation it may affect which laws will apply to them.
Who does it affect?
All foreigners who have their habitual residency in Spain and die on or after the 17th of August 2015. Spanish nationals may disregard these changes as they are unaffected by the changes.
Examples of which Will you may need
• I am a British/Irish national and NOT resident in Spain. I Don’t Plan to become Resident in Spain.
In such a case this Regulation does not affect you. It only affects existing residents in Spain or else those who at some point in the future plan to take up residency in Spain. There is no need for you to make a new Spanish Will.
A WORD OF WARNING HERE! If you are not truly a resident in Spain i.e. spend less than 183 days a year here, then that’s perfectly ok and you have nothing to worry about. However, if you are PRETENDING you are not resident in Spain, be very careful. More and more people are getting caught out by various means, and fines can be punitive. The reasons for wanting to be UK resident are currently negligible compared to being a Spanish Resident. Inheritance tax is almost nothing if anything in many cases here in Catalonia at present, and the other taxes you pay here are again currently very similar to that of the UK. Why run the risk of getting caught?
Examples of who this may affect?
• A non-resident Scottish man who inherits Spanish assets will also pay Spanish inheritance tax.
You cannot opt out or choose your own national Inheritance tax laws on inheriting assets located in Spain. You have to pay Spain’s IHT.
Other potential questions might be:
• Can I choose my own national tax law besides opting for my national succession law? The short answer is no
The regulation entitles you is to choose freely the Succession Law of your own nationality (i.e. England and Wales or Scotland’s) in lieu of Spain’s compulsory heir rules which, following this new Regulation, applies by default if your habitual residency is in Spain at the time of your death on or after the 17th of August 2015.
VERY IMPORTANT – PLEASE NOTE!!!
You CANNOT choose which Inheritance Tax Laws apply to your Spanish estate. It is mandatory to pay Spanish inheritance tax on Spanish Assets, still.
For example, an Englishman resident in Spain and inherits Spanish assets will pay Spanish inheritance tax.
To clarify on Wills……
You are simply choosing the rules of which country you wish the Will to follow. Either way, Spanish assets will STILL be liable to Spanish Taxes.
For example, in Spain assets left automatically go to certain relatives, whether you want them to or not e.g. the husband dies, 25% of any Property goes to any children, whether you want it to or not. This could then cause problems with selling properties, realising assets etc.
What do I need to do?
It is essential to co-ordinate Wills and Tax Planning (look no further) in each country concerned to ensure that your estate will pass to your chosen beneficiaries in the way that is best for you and your estate.
Chris, a partner of the Spectrum IFA Group, makes sure that not only are his clients assets managed correctly, but they are kept up to date and given the best advice for most eventualities that affect many people almost daily, that they do not think about or aren’t aware of.