Many Irish have in recent times, motivated for different reasons, invested in Real Estate in Spain. They have already gone through the experience of the real estate business in the said Country and they enjoy life in the sun during holiday periods. A great deal of them is no longer young (of age) and their expectation of life is obviously reduced as unfortunately it is a human condition that sooner or later the death arrives. For those who are in the said situation and also for those who would like to save their heirs a legal entanglement upon their death it is strongly advisable to execute a Spanish Will which will facilitate a speedy and smooth transfer of the part of their Estate left in Spain.

Advantages of having a Spanish Will

The Will as institution whereby a person («The Testator»)disposes of his assets upon his death to certain persons («Heirs») has existed in practically all ancient civilisations and is at present available as an useful tool for inheritance purposes in the majority legislations of the countries of the world.

In case of Irish having assets in Spain the advantage to execute a Spanish Will is mainly the save of administrative backlog to the heirs upon the death of the owners of those assets. This means that on death of the Testator, the Spanish part of the Estate can be wound up without delay and simultaneously to the Irish 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 to the Spanish Language by a sworn translator and legalised at the Foreign Office in Dublin and 2) A Certificate from the Central Last Will Registry in Madrid confirming that the Testator has left a Will executed before a Notary Public, being the recorded Will the 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 said 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 aforereferred Registry the last Will left by the Testator in Spain will always appear. In such Registry Wills executed in Ireland before an Irish Notary Public can also be registered providing the Will is drawn up in Spanish Language or same has been duly translated into Spanish and legalised by the Foreign Office in Dublin.

With the said two documents and a notarised copy of the Spanish Will, the appointed heirs or someone under Power of Attorney from them, usually a Lawyer, can proceed with the execution of the Deed of Declaration and Acceptance of Inheritance («Escritura de Declaración y aceptación 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 same is lodged with the Land Registry for final registration of the assets in the name of the heirs.

If the demised person has not left a Spanish Will to govern the transfer of his assets on his death, the normal scenario the Heirs will face is that they contact a firm of Irish Solicitors in order to wind up the Irish Estate. If there is an Irish will and same has provisions for the Spanish assets a Grant of Probate will have to be obtained through the Irish 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 Ireland 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 have to be translated by a sworn translator to the Spanish Language and legalised by the Foreign Office in Dublin. 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 Irish 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 Irish Citizen, Irish Law will be applicable to his Inheritance and in particular to his Spanish Estate.

The Irish Succession Act 1965 contains what are the limitations to the Testator’s freedom to dispose of his assets and has provisions for specific shares of the Estate which must compulsory be transferred to specific Heirs. This is what in juridical terms is known as the Legal Right. In the majority of cases of Irish property owners in Spain having executed a Spanish Will, the said limitations will not be applicable as the part constituted by the Spanish Estate left by way of a Spanish Will would be a bequest or legacy which will not affect the Legal Right of the compulsory Heirs in Ireland who will satisfy the said Legal Right to the Estate with the remaining assets of the Demised person in Ireland. Apart from this, in a vast number of cases the appointed heirs under the Spanish Will will be the spouse or children of the Testator who are the persons entitled to the Legal Right of the Estate, thus the Spanish property transferred by way of the Spanish Will will be considered a specific bequest for the appointed Heir in such Will.

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 Irish person executing a Will before a Spanish Notary will have to use an interpreter who will translate the terms of the will to English and who will sign the Will as well. The Will can be engrossed in bilingual form. 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 same 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 the latter, 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 aforereferred 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 Irish Notary Public, the formalities of the place of execution («Locus Regit Actum») will be applicable i.e. Irish Law and therefore the need of Witnesses and any other formalities as required by Irish Law will have to be complied with. The Will executed in Ireland will have to be executed in bilingual form and legalised at 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 Will which is that same 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 Irish 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. At this point the Notary is trying to cover his responsibility as layman in Irish Law and here an implicit reference is made to the Will not affecting the Legal Right of certain Heirs to the Testator’s Estate to which we have previously herein referred.

If we consider the most normal scenario a couple with children and the Spanish Property has been registered in the name of the parents, these would normally leave in their respective Will all their assets, interests and rights in Spain to each other and in case of predecease or simultaneous decease of the other consort, or in case of unexpected incapacity or waiver by the latter, the appointed heir shall be substituted by their children in equal shares. It is very important to include the substitution clause in the Will as in the aforereferred events the aim of the Will, which is the express regulation of the inheritance of the Testator to avoid intestacy proceedings, might be aborted.

Any other provisions are also valid so long as they respect Irish 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, apart from enjoying their property in sunny Spain if the Irish Property Owners intend to leave a tidy paperwork to their Heirs they should execute a Spanish Will. After this they can take a fly without worrying about what would happen with their Spanish Property if the plane crashes- although I suppose that would be the least of their problems.

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.