Ten steps in the Spanish Probate process
For UK probate practitioners facing estates which include Spanish assets, it can be useful to have an overview of the Spanish probate process, to enable an easy and productive dialogue with the Spanish practitioner; so as to be able to keep clients informed; and to avoid surprises.
Ten key procedural stages in the Spanish probate process are:
- Collating Documentation and Information. As with any estate succession, thorough preparation at the outset is essential. Principal items to locate/ cover for Spain typically include: Death Certificate; Will; title deeds for Spanish properties (‘escrituras’); most recent property rates receipt; Spanish registered vehicle documentation; asset valuations; bank account details (and official extract covering the date of death); full details/ date of death statements for any Spanish loans, mortgages, investments; and Spanish fiscal number certificates (N.I.E’s) for deceased and beneficiaries. If the deceased left no Spanish Will, then an official sealed copy of the UK Grant (with UK Will annexed, if applicable) may be required; and possibly further proof of legal status and relationship with the deceased (e.g. Birth and Marriage Certificates).
- Signature of Power of Attorney. A professional Spanish representative is generally appointed under Power of Attorney, in order to minimise inconvenience for beneficiaries, as the Spanish inheritance process involves a significant amount of personal attendance. UK estate administrators may also need to be represented in Spain (under Power of Attorney), in addition to beneficiaries. Usually, experienced Spanish practitioners will have arrangements in place with UK Notaries’ Society members and The Foreign and the Commonwealth Office, to enable the Power of Attorney to be signed just as easily in the UK as in Spain- for signatories’ convenience. Generally, the entire Spanish legal process can be conducted without the need for UK executors/ beneficiaries having to go to Spain.
- Obtaining N.I.E’s. As indicated, a Spanish fiscal number is required by each estate representative/ beneficiary. Often seen as a significant hurdle, but experienced Spanish practitioners will have a system in place for these to be simply and rapidly obtained- including within the UK.
- Spanish Central Wills Registry Search. An obligatory early step in the process is that a search must be carried out to confirm the existence or absence of a Spanish Will. If it is revealed that there is a Spanish Will, but no official copy can be found; then usually a copy can be obtained via the Spanish Notary.
- Certification of Law and Official Translations. Any non-Spanish legal documents which are required to prove beneficial entitlement (Death Certificates; Grants of Probate, etc) may need to be Apostilled by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in order to be legally admissible in Spain. In some cases, they must also be translated and certified by an official translator. An advantage of the existence of a valid separate Spanish Will (if there is one), is that it reduces the complexity and extent of the documentation, which has to be produced to the Spanish Authorities. In many cases, the Authorising Spanish Notary will require a Certificate of English law, confirming the legal entitlement of the beneficiaries and/or to provide any case-specific comfort as may be required on cross-border legal issues.
- Opening of Client Bank Account. It is fundamentally important before provision of client funds, to ensure that the Spanish probate representative operates a client accounting policy/ facility which fully protects the estate and the beneficiaries. The standard obligatory requirements in Spain can be less extensive than in the UK.
- Execution of the Inheritance Deed before the Authorising Spanish Notary. Generally, the procedural urgency in achieving the signature of the official Inheritance Deed and concluding the Notarial process, is that this then enables the Spanish Succession Tax to be paid. Payment of the tax must be made within 6 months of the date of death, in order to avoid interest/ penalties accruing on the tax debt. As the tax can generally only be paid once the Spanish Notarial process is completed, it is critically important that the Spanish process is commenced at the very earliest stage possible; and proactively pushed forward, to settle matters with the Notary as quickly as possible. Otherwise, there is a danger that an unnecessarily inflated Spanish tax liability will arise.
- Payment of Tax. It is important to have obtained from the Spanish practitioner at the outset of the case, a detailed estimate of all applicable costs and taxes. This ensures adequate preparation time for provision of funds, to enable the tax payment to be made immediately following the signature of the official Inheritance Deed. In addition to Spanish Succession Tax, Plus Valia Tax may also be payable. This is a local Spanish Town Hall tax, payable upon the transmission of a property interest. Most Spanish Town Halls charge this on inheritance, as well as property sales. It is calculated by reference to the Spanish property’s rateable value; and the period of ownership. Traditionally, this was a nominal amount. But with revisions to rateable values in particular, in some areas of Spain it can be a very substantial amount.
- Banks. Dealing with bank accounts in Spanish probate cases can often be the longest and most frustrating part of the process, but this can only be fully addressed once the Inheritance Deed has been signed and any Spanish Succession Tax paid. Succession of bank accounts is not addressed at local bank branch level in Spain. The bank’s central legal department instead deals with succession matters. Direct contact with the bank’s central legal department is generally fairly difficult. For the Spanish banks, succession work is decidedly low priority.
- Property and Vehicle Registries. Following the signature of the Inheritance Deed; and payment of any Spanish Succession Tax; applications can be made to the Property and/or Vehicle Registries, in order for the Spanish estate assets to be registered in beneficiaries’ names. The Property Registration process in particular, involves a further level of legal scrutiny. So, in some cases, additional requisitions can be raised at this stage, beyond matters covered with the Authorising Spanish Notary earlier in the process.
The Legal 4 Spain team is always available to provide preliminary advice on a no-obligation basis in relation to probate cases, which include Spanish assets.
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