Spanish inheritance law includes requirements for forced heirs and as a result, does not contemplate the option of leaving your estate to anyone you like. This is the opposite of some countries such as the UK, for example. But does this mean that you must apply the law of forced heirs in Spain to any assets you own in the country?
In this guide, we explain what forced heirs mean and how the Spanish law applies to residents in Spain and owners of assets there.
What is forced heirship?
If the deceased made a will in Spain, there are two types of beneficiaries:
- Those named specifically in the will, are known as herederos voluntarios in Spanish.
- Those entitled by law to inherit part of the estate, are known as herederos forzosos or herederos legítimos in Spanish.
If the law of forced heirs applies to you, you must include the herederos forzosos when you make a will. There are certain exceptions to this (e.g. the forced heir has been found guilty of violence towards you or has threatened you if you don’t include them).
Who are forced heirs?
- Your surviving spouse or partner
- Your children and their descendants (children take priority, followed by grandchildren and then great-grandchildren).
- If you have no surviving spouse or children, your parents and other older relatives are forced heirs.
How much of the estate are forced heirs entitled to?
It depends on whether the heirs are descendants or descendants.
They have the right to two-thirds of the inheritance. However, one of these thirds may be left to just one of the children or descendants if you wish.
What about the remaining third?
This is known as ‘the free disposition third’ (tercio de libre disposición) and can be left to whoever you like.
They have the right to half the inheritance unless the deceased has a surviving spouse or partner. In this case, they receive a third of the estate.
What about the remaining half?
This can be left to anyone you like.
What about the surviving spouse or partner?
They always have the right to usufruct (beneficial use) of part of the estate regardless of whether the deceased had children, other descendants or ascendants. The exact proportion is as follows:
- Inheritance with children or descendants – the surviving spouse or partner has the right to usufruct of one-third of the estate.
- Inheritance with ascendants but no descendants – the surviving spouse or partner has the right to usufruct of half the estate.
- Inheritance with no descendants or ascendants – the surviving spouse or partner has the right to usufruct of two-thirds of the estate.
Who does the law of forced heirs apply to in Spain?
Contrary to popular expat myth, forced heirship does not apply to you automatically if you live in Spain or own assets there. It only applies in the following cases:
- You have Spanish nationality.
- You are an EU national, resident in Spain and your will specifically designates Spanish law as the one governing your inheritance.
- The inheritance law in your home country forwards the regulations governing the inheritance of your estate to Spanish law.
So, how can I avoid force heirship in Spain?
Usually, you can avoid having to designate forced heirs if you ensure that your Spanish will specifically designate the inheritance law of another country. However, much depends on your personal situation and the will(s) you choose to make.
We, therefore, recommend that you take professional legal advice on this subject to make sure that you leave your estate to the people you want to. Get in touch with our expert team for a free no-obligation consultation.