A legal change improves the position of buyers of inherited real estate

On this blog, we have commented in the past on the risks of purchasing from a seller who acquired a property by inheritance from a non-immediate family member. Buyers were often not aware of this situation, which entailed legal risks that fortunately have been removed.

The most typical example of this type of inheritance is a single person or widow with no children who, via a will or by law, ends up leaving their estate to a non-immediate family member (under Spanish law: a sibling, nephew/niece, cousin, etc.) or even someone with no family ties. When these heirs accept the inheritance and become the owners of the property of the deceased they, logically, often want to sell it. To sell the property, they first have to register their ownership of it in the real estate register. Until now, this registration recorded with it a charge in the form of a restriction on the owner’s power to sell the property for two years. This restriction existed to protect the rights of any heir with a preferential right to inherit who appears later on (e.g., a child that had not previously been acknowledged).

The buyer, who was unaware of how the seller acquired the property, may have committed to purchasing it via an earnest money agreement, only to later find out that the banks will not finance the purchase owing to the restriction on the property. The legal provision providing for this restriction has recently been repealed with retroactive effect. This means that property buyers can rest a little easier from now on.

However, we still recommend seeking the assistance of a lawyer when purchasing a property to obtain the proper legal advice and avoid the other risks that buying real estate entails.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Your legal adviser in Spain

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Structural soundness certificate for old buildings

In Catalonia, owners of over 45 year-old buildings must obtain a structural soundness certificate from the Catalan Agency of Housing to show that the building meets all the legal requirements for building safety, health and aesthetics.

This obligation affects both owners of single-family detached houses and units in a commonhold building (in this case, it is the responsibility of the commonhold association). To obtain the certificate, the owners must get a specialist to draft a report on the state of maintenance and conservation of the building, the improvement in its sustainability and eco-efficiency, and the assessment of basic accessibility conditions. The report must state how often these actions are performed.

This certificate is not required in only two cases: 1) detached houses where the main building is at least 1.5 metres from any roadway, public-use area and neighbouring property, 2) detached houses that have a certificate of habitability that was in force when the building reached 45 years of age (until the certificate of habitability expires). The term of 45 years starts from the date of construction or any comprehensive refurbishment of the building.

The owners of the building pay for the technical inspection. However, there is currently no fee for applying for the structural soundness certificate. If you as an owner do not have this certificate when you should, you may be fined.

If the certificate states that the building is structurally unsound, the owners must agree to a refurbishment plan within one year, six months if the defects are serious. This plan must be overseen by qualified specialists. If no serious defects are found, the structural soundness certificate is valid for 10 years. After this period, it must be renewed.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Your legal adviser in Spain

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The banks’ war against non-resident homeowners in Spain

You always needed a Spanish bank account to holiday in a home you owned in Spain. You needed it to pay the bills and tax associated with the property. But now it’s becoming mission impossible to keep a bank account open for this.

Banks are under constant stress from intense competition, market pressure and, above all, increasingly strict government controls that seek to apply effective anti-money laundering and tax evasion measures. Having a bank account in Spain just to pay the utilities of a holiday home is getting more expensive and difficult because this type of customer is no longer of interest to banks.

Banks must cooperate with the government in identifying their customers. However, until now, they had been far from zealous in meeting this obligation that had been in place for years related to fiscal transparency and the fight against money laundering. But now, in this requirement, they have found the perfect excuse for making life impossible for non-residents with little banking activity, something of little profit to banks at a time they are keen to cut costs by reducing staff and closing branches. What we have, then, is a campaign against non-resident homeowners to try to force them to have their utilities paid through an account in their country of residence (something now technically possible) and close their little used Spanish bank account.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Your legal adviser in Spain

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Tax headaches from receiving a foreign pension

Many Europeans spend much of their holidays in Spain throughout their working life. Therefore, it’s understandable that once retired they want to have holidays all year round by becoming residents in Spain. What obligations do these retirees have with the Spanish tax authorities?

If you spend more than 183 days in Spain, you are considered a resident for tax purposes. In this case, you must declare all your income to the Spanish tax authorities, both income generated in Spain and any coming from abroad. However, even though the Spanish tax agency must be informed of all your income, this does not mean that you have to pay tax in Spain on all your earnings.

The international agreements between Spain and other countries to avoid double taxation aim to make sure that the tax you pay is legitimate and fair, and you can deduct tax paid abroad previously from tax owed in Spain.

Retirement pensions receive a special treatment that has caused much controversy in recent years because the double taxation rules were not given the same interpretation in different countries. For instance, public pensions can only be taxed in the country in which they are generated. But in recent years, public pensions have come to be interpreted to be only pensions received by retired civil servants.

Another problem is caused by pensions paid as a lump sum without any kind of withholding, typical in Germany. In this case, when the paying country wants to collect the tax it is legally owed, the lump sum may have already been taxed in Spain, without there having been any deduction of the foreign tax due because it had yet to be paid.

Given such complexities, you should always seek the advice of a tax specialist for clearing up any doubt surrounding your situation to avoid unpleasant surprises from the tax authorities in Spain or your home country.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Your legal adviser in Spain

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Spanish residents required to declare foreign assets

For some time now, residents in Spain have been required by law to declare the assets they hold abroad to the Spanish Treasury. This includes everything from real estate and bank accounts to shares and insurance held or managed outside of Spain.

This declaration must be made online with an electronic signature. You have from 1 January to 31 March to make a declaration for the previous year. In the case of bank accounts, this declaration must include:

  • Full name of the bank or credit entity
  • Full details of your accounts
  • Dates accounts opened or closed, or, if applicable, dates the authorisation that gives rise to your obligation to declare was granted or revoked
  • Account balances as of 31 December and the average balance for the last quarter of the year

You do not have to make a declaration when the total of the account balances does not exceed €50,000 on 31 December. And you only need to make a declaration in following years when the total balance of all your accounts (as of 31 December and the average for the last quarter) goes up by over €20,000 compared to the balance reported in a previous declaration.
Similar rules apply for securities, stock-market shares, investment fund shares, life and disability insurance, and life and term annuities.

What is the purpose of this declaration? It allows the Spanish Treasury to check if the annual income and property tax declarations that you must file as a resident before 30 June take into account foreign assets and income. Because, as a resident in Spain, you must declare your income worldwide.

This obligation to declare foreign assets came about when the tax authorities of EU countries started working more closely together and assisting each other, as we have mentioned in other blog articles.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Your legal adviser in Spain

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Remote working from Spain

Remote working is not a passing fad caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a way of working that has so many advantages that it will become entrenched in society. I have clients who visit Spain on a regular basis for holidays or to enjoy their retirement. Now more and more of them are considering living here permanently, working and enjoying life by the beach at same time.

Over a year ago, before we’d even had a hint of the coming pandemic and the social changes it would bring, we published an article on our blog on the possibilities and legal risks of remote working. In this article, we concentrate more on the international aspects of this work situation. We’re specifically going to look at the legal problem arising when someone works remotely in one country, Spain, for example, when the recipient benefiting from their services is located in another country. Germany, for instance. This is an increasingly common scenario. There are even local councils and companies in Spanish tourist areas promoting the idea of “holidays all year round”, where the worker is offered the opportunity to enjoy their holiday paradise while meeting their work obligations during part of the day.

But when we provide our services remotely as an employee or a self-employed person and our habitual residence is in one country while the client or employer we are providing our services to is in another, what labour legislation and social security system are applicable? To answer these questions, which always depend on the timeframe, several agreements have been reached in the European Economic Area that essentially require workers to be able to demonstrate via an internationally valid document which national social security system is responsible for their situation and the payment of their contributions. When in this scenario, we must take into account the applicable situation and get expert advice to make sure that we are meeting our tax, labour and social security obligations at all times required by the legislation of the country in question. Cases can vary a lot, and you always need professional advice to make sure you are abiding by the law.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Your legal adviser in Spain

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Tarracoiuris makes it easier to get legal advice remotely

We’ve always been swift to adopt new technology so you can get legal advice regardless of your location. We now have a new tool that will make it even easier for you to get personalised legal advice without having to install any specific application.

We are proud to have clients on every continent. For many years now, we have invested in the most versatile communication channels available so you can easily contact us from anywhere across the globe on a daily basis. As well as being able to talk directly to us with all the guarantees of privacy and confidentiality, you can share with us any document type via a 100% private and secure cloud storage system.

One obstacle we found when communicating via channels such as Skype, Hangouts and Meet was that our clients had to know our account for each application and must have previously installed the application in question in the device they wanted to use to speak to us. For instance, if they usually contacted us from their office but urgently needed to speak to us from somewhere else, if they didn’t have the application with which they usually contacted us installed on the device they had with them (computer, tablet or mobile phone), it made it harder for them to speak with us.

We have overcome these problems with our new tool. We now have a virtual conference room that you access just by clicking on the link that we send you by the means that best suits you. You don’t have to install any application on your device.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Your legal adviser in Spain

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Professional services for pensioners residing abroad

When you stop working, it’s time to enjoy your pension. But what happens to your pension if you decide to retire abroad? To receive a pension in Spain as a foreign resident, you need to take into account a range of matters that can turn out to be quite complex.

Spanish pension laws are extremely complex, although this legislation is not applicable to Spanish residents receiving a foreign pension. In this case, you are covered by bilateral social security agreements. In Spain, the Social Security (“Seguridad Social”) takes care of social welfare matters.

One typical situation is migrating when you’re already receiving a pension in your home country. In this case, you need to know what to do to make sure you keep receiving your pension abroad. To start with, you need to submit a number of documents to the social welfare authority in your home country.

You may also need to demonstrate that you are still alive and entitled to receive the pension. Any hitch regarding this matter can result in a stoppage of the payments and can cause serious problems for you as an overseas pensioner.

Another complex situation entails when you have worked most of your life in your home country but now work abroad and plan to stay and live in this foreign country during your retirement. In this case, you need to calculate the most beneficial option according to the applicable international agreements for the periods worked in the two countries.

This situation can vary greatly and can give rise to very complex scenarios because of differences between the legislations of the different countries regarding the minimum retirement age, the minimum amount of years worked required, requirements regarding non-contributory pensions, etc. Ideally, you need to get professional advice when making decisions about such important matters regarding your working life.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Doing business abroad via a representative

When we have interests in a foreign country we aren’t residing in, we usually manage them by distance. To do this, we normally grant power of attorney to someone we trust. Given the important legal implications in giving someone power of attorney, the process is subject to strict formalities.

These formalities are even stricter if the document empowering our representative is to be used for managing business interests in a country different from where it is issued. At our law firm, we come across cases like these every day. For example, an Englishman wanting to purchase a property in Spain and have a Spanish legal professional represent him in the sale. Or a Russian on holiday in Spain who realises she needs to take care of something at a Swiss bank and wants to give someone in that country power of attorney for representing her at the Swiss bank. Or a German resident in Spain who needs to settle an inheritance in Germany and wants someone he trusts to handle it for him. In situations like these, the document granting the power of attorney to our representative, which will be issued in one country and used in another, must be legalised.

Documents granting powers of attorney that can be used internationally must be officially authorised to be valid. This means that an authenticating official (normally a notary public or a public servant) must certify the document. This authenticating official attests that the person signing the document is who they say they are and is of sound mind (or at least states they are). This certification converts the power of attorney into a notarial instrument. However, for this document to be recognised in other countries, the person who officially certifies it must be recognised by another authority in the same country that is in turn recognised by the authorities of the country in which the document is going to be used. For example, a power of attorney granted before a Spanish notary public to be used in Germany must be recognised as an authentic notarial instrument by the German authorities. In most European countries, this international recognition of the local official is done via an Apostille stamp. In the above example, the power of attorney granted by the Spanish notary must bear an Apostille stamp from the Spanish Association of Notaries Public, which is the body recognised by the German authorities for authorising the signature of a Spanish notary public.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Legal restrictions affecting the purchase of inherited real estate

Buying a property is always a risky proposition. Especially when the seller inherited the property. This entails additional risks for the buyer, depending on the relationship the seller had with the former owner.

In a previous post, we spoke about the risks of buying real estate inherited by an immediate family member. These risks have to do with tax as the inheritor is entitled to fiscal benefits that place restrictions on the sale of the property. If these restrictions are not met, the tax office will make any claim against the current owner of the property.

In this post, we look at another type of risk that arises from a slightly different situation — when the seller acquires the property by inheritance from someone who is not an immediate family member. The most typical example is a single person or widow without children who, via a will or by law, ends up leaving their estate to a non-immediate family member (under Spanish law: a sibling, nephew/niece, cousin, etc.) or even someone with no family ties.

When the seller registers the inherited real estate in the land registry, a restriction is placed on their power to sell the property for a given period. This restriction exists so that if an heir with a preferential right to inherit appears (e.g., a child that had not previously been acknowledged), their rights are protected.

This restriction, which is often not taken into account, can lead to surprises as the banks may decline financing the property purchase in such cases. As always, we recommend seeking the assistance of a lawyer when you purchase a property to obtain the proper legal advice.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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