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Succession planning in Portugal

By Mark Quinn
This article is published on: 22nd July 2022

How to protect your loved ones

Death and taxes are the two certainties, but it is surprising how many of us fail to properly plan during our lifetimes.

The key considerations for most of us in this area of planning are ‘control’ and ‘taxation’. This is ensuring that assets are passed to the right individuals, in the right proportions, at the right time with minimal taxation. But as expats, in order to ensure this happens, you must carefully consider the succession rules of Portugal, your originating country, and any interaction between the two.

Understanding the Portuguese rules
Unlike the UK, where you can generally leave your assets however you wish, Portugal has ‘forced heirship’ rules. These force you to leave certain proportions of your assets to specific family members and applies to your worldwide estate (except for non-Portuguese real estate).

For expats, the ‘Brussels IV’ regulation means that the rules of your country of habitual residence will apply, so forced heirship could apply to you unless you specifically elect for the succession law of your country of nationality to apply via your Will, or other appropriate legal documents. This must be done during your lifetime and cannot be changed after your death. But it is important to note that this does not affect the tax rules that apply, only the rules around succession, and these two issues should be looked at independently.

There is no inheritance tax in Portugal. Instead, Stamp Duty is due at 10% on assets located in Portugal that pass to someone other than a spouse or direct line ascendants or descendants. This tax is paid by the recipient irrespective of where they live and must be paid before receiving the asset. It is due within 6 months of the death, so for large gifts and inheritances, this could be a problem for your loved ones.

Impact of your nationality
A particular issue for British expats is that their liability to UK inheritance tax (IHT) is not determined by where they live (as with Brussels IV), but by their domicile. This means that even if you live in Portugal, and have done so for many years, you can still be subject to UK IHT as well as Portuguese taxes. There are rules in place to avoid double taxation, but again this will have to be sorted out by the recipients and your executors which might be complex and costly.

It is possible to shed your UK domicile however this is very complex, so specific advice should be sought.

Succession planning in Portugal

Tax mitigation
IHT is sometimes considered a voluntary tax as with the right planning, there are many steps you can take to reduce the tax liability on your estate and gifts. From a Portuguese perspective, this can be as simple as holding your assets outside of Portugal. For UK nationals, the planning is likely to be a little more complex such as utilising all allowances and the gifting rules, trusts or trust-like structures, or domicile changes.

What about Wills?
UK Wills are valid under Portuguese law but practically, it is likely to be more difficult, costly, and time-consuming for your executor or heirs to go through the bureaucracy in Portugal. We suggest that you have a separate Will for each country in which you hold assets. They should acknowledge the other Wills, however, they must not override or conflict with each other.

Even if you already have a plan in place, it is important to review this periodically, or if your family or financial circumstances change.

With careful planning and our specialist cross-border advice, we can help you create the right estate plan for you and your family.

Article by Mark Quinn

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