Your Guide to International Succession

In today’s mobile world, it’s common for people to own assets in more than one country and live in a country other than that of their nationality. While this makes life very cosmopolitan, it can make inheritance matters more complicated than usual since international succession involves legislation in more than one country.

However, with the right legal advice, the inheritance process works smoothly and the heirs face fewer obstacles in their way to the inheritance. This guide to international succession explains the procedure and how it works. 

Read our free guide to inheritance in Spain

What’s the difference between a regular inheritance and international succession? 

International succession comes into play when the deceased’s residency and/or assets are not those of their nationality. For example: 

  • If the deceased was resident in a country other than their nationality, for instance, resident in Spain but a British citizen. 
  • The deceased leaves assets (immovable such as property and/or movable such as stocks and shares) in a country where they were neither resident nor a citizen. For example, a British resident in Spain leaves assets in France. 

How does international succession work? 

Inherited assets are subject to the laws of the countries where they’re located, which can complicate matters if the assets are in different countries. To address this potential complexity, the EU introduced regulations in 2015 according to which, only one law applies to estates with foreign assets. 

As a result, the applicable legislation is in force in the country where the deceased had their last habitual residence. 

So, in our examples above, the assets are subject to Spanish law in both cases because the deceased was resident in Spain. 

Bottom line: if the deceased was resident in an EU state at the time of death, that country’s inheritance legislation applies to the estate. 

Find out why you need a will in Spain if you own Spanish property

Does this rule apply in all EU member states?

All EU member states are subject to this agreement except Denmark and Ireland. Note that even if the deceased was a non-EU citizen but living in an EU country (minus Denmark and Ireland), these international succession rules apply. 

What happens if the deceased lived in more than one country in the same year? 

In some cases, habitual residence can be difficult to establish, particularly if the deceased did not spend more than 183 days in a year in one country. In this case, international succession regulations state that the inheritance is subject to legislation in the country where the deceased had the closest ties. 

Sometimes, this distinction is not clear-cut, particularly in cases of someone who worked in one country, but whose family lived in another. This is when expert legal advice is essential to determine which laws to apply to the estate in which country. 

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Can you choose which country’s legislation to apply?

Yes, you may state in your will which country’s legislation you wish to apply to your estate. At Costaluz Lawyers, we strongly advise your will include the mention of the specific country. This process is known as professio juris

What happens if the will doesn’t state which country’s law to apply?

In this case, the assets are subject to the law of the country in which the deceased had their habitual residence. This is yet another excellent reason for making a Spanish will for your assets in Spain.

Where can I get advice on international succession?

Contact the expert team at Costaluz Lawyers. They have a long track record of helping expats in Spain leave their assets according to their wishes and of helping heirs receive the inheritance they’re entitled to.

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