The relationship between heirs and beneficiaries of life assurance

Heirs are persons upon whom, according to the law or a valid will, the rights of the testator are conferred after the testator has died.  However, when taking out life assurance, the beneficiary of the insurance payout can be freely chosen, regardless of the inheritance.  The inheritance is bound to the nationality of the testator, while a life assurance policy taken out in Spain is subject to Spanish law.   

It can happen that the sum a beneficiary receives from a life assurance policy is worth more than the total estate.  Taking into consideration the importance of regulating the transfer of assets with regard to an inheritance by drawing up a will, it soon becomes clear that the choice of beneficiary of a life assurance policy should not be disregarded, as the amount of insurance paid out following the death of the policy holder does not generally form part of the estate.

Regardless of the heirs, the holder of a life assurance policy may choose the beneficiary at their own discretion, or change a previous choice without needing the consent of the insurer.  Designation of the beneficiary can be given either in the ‘police’, in a later written declaration disclosed to the insurer, or in the will, where in the latter case all the details needed for the identification of the insurance policy must be given.
The insurance payout only becomes part of the estate if no specific beneficiary was designated at the time the policy holder passed away, and if there are no arrangements in place with which to determine the beneficiary.  In all other cases, the beneficiary receives the insurance payout, irrespective of the whereabouts of the inheritance.  This fact is of particular interest if acceptance of the inheritance is bound with a large number of liabilities, or there is a dispute between heirs.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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