The donatio mortis causa

The death is not predictable, but in certain cases we should be aware of the end, for example in cases of high age or severe disease. In Catalonia the law gives us an almost unknown possibility of partitioning our heritage and foreseeing its costs in advance.

This method is called donation mortis causa and it has many advantages compared to a common donation. The donation mortis causa is a kind of donation which could always be used if the object of the donation is real estate in Catalonia. It has many advantages in comparison to a common donation or the regular heritage. But you have to keep certain rules to ensure its acceptance by authorities.

Mainly it is a donation where the transfer of property at first does not occur but it takes effect in the moment of the donator’s death. The Spanish common law (that is the civil law of the regions of Spain with no own law, such as Catalonia) doesn’t really regard it as a donation: it is simply considered parallel to a legacy. But in Catalonia there is an own legal instrument which admits the donatio mortis causa under the following conditions:

  • Free revocability for the donator, which also means that the transfer of property at first doesn’t occur.
  • Its ineffectiveness if the donee predeceases, which means that the expectation is ineffective if the donee dies before the donator. In this case the property remains at the donator without any limitations.

The most important advantage in comparison to the common donation is a fiscal one. In case of the common donation the tax becomes due in the moment of the property transfer. In case of a donatio mortis causa the due date is not before the death of the donator.  And, on the other hand, the common donation is liable to the gift tax. At this kind of tax there is no amount of exemption allowed. But the donatio mortis causa is treated by authorities in the same way as a legacy, which means that it is liable to the inheritance tax. Here we can take profit of the legally alllowed amount of tax exemption.

But there are even more advantages in comparison to other possibilities of property transfers in the occasion of death, especially the simplicity of handling. It is neither necessary to define the successor exactly, nor to constitute who has to pay out for a certain legacy nor has the efficacy of the testament to be confirmed. This is especially important in cases of property transfers in case of heritage by foreigners. Here the law of the foreign country is always applicable. This is a point where foreign authorities come into play and make things more complicated. With the donatio mortis causa we avoid this in the moment of the formation of the contract and also in the moment of the enforcement of the property transfer as well. The title of ownership is created according to the rules to the lifetime of the donator. And for the enforcement  of the property transfer only the death certificate is needed (and no other documents else).

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

This article in German