Wills and Testaments for foreign residents: One country, one law.

Spanish wills and testaments   People have a tendency to believe that their own beliefs are shared by all. We assume that the way we think is not affected by external circumstances. We also tend to assume that our customs and habits are not influenced by our surroundings. That’s normal. The principle of free will is one our greatest achievements and expressions of freedom and we would like free will to govern our personal interests. 

   However, things are the way they are and not the way we would like them to be. One common problem that notaries offices have to deal with is intestacy.

   If the person who dies without leaving a will is Spanish, the resulting problems are relatively easy to resolve. The costs are higher than those incurred when there is a will, but they are still affordable. The heirs need to obtain a certificate of inheritance at a notary’s office, which takes a little longer if the person has made a will. This is the case when the heirs are the deceased’s ascendants, descendants or spouse. However, if the heirs do not fall within these categories, the matter cannot be resolved by a Notary and must be processed through the courts, which takes longer and is more expensive.

   What’s more, if the deceased is a foreigner, things become more complex still. A certificate of inheritance is still required but there are numerous potential complications and costs, economic and temporary.

   Does this take place in Spain or abroad? Are the same supporting documents required as for a Spanish person? Are the costs the same? Does it take the same amount of time?

   Everything can be processed in Spain, however:

  1. The foreign law must be proven, because Spanish notaries are not required to know foreign law.

  2. The documents presented to obtain a certificate of inheritance must also comply with some additional requirements, such as Apostilles and attestations.

  3. The procedures is more complicated and more expensive.

  4. Lastly, the process can drag on for a long time, because the added risk and complications for the notary slow down the process to avoid incurring any liabilities.

   All these problems disappear when foreign nationals with property or interests in Spain make a Spanish will and witness it before a notary. In these cases the formalities are as simple as they are for Spanish nationals.

   In fact, some foreign citizens who have not made a will in their countries of origin may find it easier to make one in Spain because, generally speaking, the process is simpler here.

  The same thing applies to Spanish nationals with property abroad because, as the saying goes «When in Rome, do as the Romans do».

   Have you make a will yet?

Antonio Ripoll Soler
Notary in Alicante (Spain)


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