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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Why you should make a will where you invest in property

From the moment you register your property in a state’s land registry to protect your rights as a property owner, you are subject to that state’s regulations. If the state that rules on your inheritance is not the same as the one governing your property, you can help your heirs by making a will in the state where the property is located.

When you buy a house, you want your property rights to be protected by the law of the land. This is why you register your title to the property in the corresponding land and property registers. In exchange for this protection, you pay taxes. After your death, your heirs will want the same protection, but their title to the property will not be a property deed. It will be an acceptance of inheritance document. This is a document issued by the authorities of a country that may be different from where your property is located.

The differing legal approaches in different countries create the biggest headaches in international inheritances. Who is the heir? What percentage do they inherit? Who has a right to inherit? Such questions can only be resolved by the competent public authorities. As a rule, these are the authorities of your country of residence or nationality. When you have foreign investments, the documents issued by the authorities in your home country have to be interpreted by the authorities in the country where you have assets. This creates additional problems that can be tricky to resolve. You can resolve these problems by making a valid will in the country where your property is located. By doing so, you stop foreign authorities from getting involved in the processing of your estate.

As always, we recommend that our foreign clients, from as soon as they own property in Spain, make a Spanish will to govern their Spanish inheritances as they see fit. Thus, limiting the involvement of non-Spanish authorities in the processing of their estates.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Who will inherit your property?

You may think you know the answer to this question. But the law, when applied, can lead to some surprising and unexpected outcomes. Because regardless of whether you make a will, your inheritance will be subject to the law.

I’m sure you know that the law fills the gap when someone doesn’t make a will. But even if you make a will, the law is applied to determine its validity, scope and any limitations.

What happens if the heir you appoint dies before you do? What happens if they die after you but before they formally accept the will, in other words, they die without having been declared your heir? What happens if you appoint a non-family member or a legal person (e.g., a foundation or association) as your heir and leave nothing to your children? What happens if somebody has an interest in invalidating your will?

All these questions are subject to the law. But here is where the doubts just begin. What law? The law where you live, your country of origin or where your property is located?

For instance, the inheritance of a Swiss national resident in Spain is governed by Swiss law. However, Swiss law can end up making Spanish law applicable. Whereas the inheritance of a German national resident in Spain is governed by Spanish law except where otherwise stated in the will.

And then there’s the fact that the applicable Spanish law differs depending on whether you live in Benidorm or Salou. The applicable tax will also differ. Even the formalities that your heirs must observe to take possession of your property won’t be the same.

So care must be taken when setting out your inheritance in a will. You must think about the formalities that the beneficiary you designate will have to go through, the costs that they will have to bear, and any difficulties they might face with other possible beneficiaries, the authorities, your creditors, etc.

So if you have property in your name, we urge you to seek professional advice and make a will as soon as possible. Your heirs will be glad you did.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Tourist rentals and homeowner associations

We’ve written before about the administrative requirements for renting properties to holidaymakers: https://blog.tarracoiuris.com/en/?p=380
Today we look at the legal issues that can arise with homeowner associations
.

As we stated in our previous post, the government has established social, economic and tax controls in the tourist rental market. It did this because holiday letting can affect housing prices, the make-up of districts and the good relations between neighbours. Politically, these are highly sensitive issues. Recently, there have even been very divisive campaigns by neighbourhood and social groups against tourism, a phenomenon referred to as “tourism-phobia” by some in the media. These groups say that the boom in holiday letting has caused social problems, especially in the historic centres of cities and in communities in tourist areas.

Thus, the government now requires various things if you want to rent a property to tourists. First, the property must have a special registration number. This number, issued by the Tourism Register of Catalonia (Registre de Turisme de Catalunya, RTC), starts with the prefix HUT, which basically stands for “property for tourist use” in Catalan. Second, you must register the property with the regional police so you can register the details of the people who stay overnight in your property. Lastly, you need to pay the Catalan tourist tax (the IEET tax) on an ongoing basis.

As well as having to comply with these administrative requirements, you also need to take into account whether the property you want to let out is affected by a homeowner association. If you have an apartment in a building with common areas or a house or duplex on an estate with common services (pool, sport facilities, etc.), you and your property may be affected by the decisions of a homeowner association on what your property may be used for. Homeowner associations are increasingly voting to prohibit certain uses of properties. This often includes prohibiting owners from renting their properties to holidaymakers.

What can you do to protect your property rights in such cases? You need to seek professional advice to analyse exactly what options you have. We would be more than happy to provide you with this advice. Please contact us if you find yourself in this situation or have any questions.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Avoid causing problems between your heirs over the inheritance you leave them

A common cause of family rifts is the distribution of inheritances. Before we die, it is our responsibility to take one of the many measures available to make sure such conflicts don’t happen.

Joint ownership is by far what creates the most problems we encounter on a daily basis at our law firm. Joint ownership of real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, etc. can tangle the associated financial, administrative and fiscal red tape so much that the property loses just about all profitability and may even lose value.

People rarely enter joint ownership arrangements voluntarily, which shows how undesirable they are. They normally arise out of an unwanted event of legal significance: a divorce, a company winding up or someone passing away. In this post, we look at joint ownership arrangements arising from inheritances.

The most straightforward and economical way of distributing an inheritance is by making a will. To guarantee the effectiveness of the will, first you need to get your lawyer to check its content. Second, you need to execute it as a notarial instrument (done with a notary public).  In a will, an inheritance is usually distributed by means of “legacies”, i.e., the universal heir to the entire estate is required to distribute certain property to certain people. To ensure the heir complies with this obligation, an executor can be appointed.

Another way of sidestepping problems between successors is to make gifts while you are still alive. A similar amount of tax is paid when property is transferred as a gift to when it is inherited. The advantage is that you can finalise everything while you are still alive. The disadvantage is that, unlike with a will, if you change your mind, you can’t change the situation without the help of the beneficiary.

Either way, if we want our memory to live on in a harmonious family, it’s worth distributing our inheritance in the most impartial way possible prior to our death. Our heirs will thank us for it.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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When a loved one passes away, how do we know if we are beneficiaries of a life insurance policy taken out by them?

Many people aren’t sure of how many life insurance policies they have. And the beneficiaries of these policies are often even less likely to know about any benefit they may be entiled to. Therefore, there is a risk that a family member may spend years paying for life insurance with us as the beneficiaries for which we don’t receive the payout.

Because over our lifetime, we end up taking out a lot of life insurance. Not just with insurance companies but also banks and financial institutions, which, rather than offering it to us, require it for taking out loans. Sometimes life insurance is included free with other services, usually financial services.

In Spain, to safeguard against this risk, the Ministry of Justice created the Register of Life Insurance Coverage. This register provides information on whether a deceased person had any life insurance taken out and with which company so that possible beneficiaries can contact the insurance company in question to find out if they were designated as beneficiaries and claim any benefits they may be entitled to under the policy from the insurance company.
This public register is accessible to anyone wanting information on whether a deceased person had a life insurance contract and on the insurance company providing the policy. You can access the records of this register only after someone has died, from 15 days after the date of death, by providing proof of the death. The records are accessible for five years.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Inheriting abroad (2)

In our last post, we spoke about the first steps you need to take when you accept an inheritance as a foreigner in Spain. Today we’re going to look at a very topical matter: which authorities determine who the heirs are. Because, as of summer this year, the authorities of the country of usual residence will be responsible for this, which marks a change from the law in force until now in most European countries.

Around a year ago, we spoke about the important legal changes coming into effect in August 2015 regarding foreign inheritance in all EU countries with a few exceptions in the cases of inheritances of United Kingdom and Denmark nationals ( https://blog.tarracoiuris.com/en/?p=212 ). After this change, the authorities in the country of residence will usually determine the heirs. And, where no will exists stating otherwise, these authorities will apply the law in force in that country. For instance, for a German national residing in Spain at the time of their death, it will be Spain, in accordance with Spanish law, that will determine who the heirs are by applying Spanish regulations. Until now, the German authorities did this by issuing a certificate of inheritance (applying German law) in such cases. So, from when the new EU regulations on the European certificate of succession come into force, the situation will be the complete opposite.

In Spain, once you have established via the competent authorities that you are the legitimate heir, you need to — especially in the case of property inheritance — sign an Acceptance of Inheritance before a notary public. This is an official notarial document that you can use as proof of title for the banks, the Land Registry, the cadastral register, the vehicle register, etc. But before you can use this document to transfer the deceased’s property to your name, you have to pay any tax due on it, either to the regional tax authorities, if you’re a resident, or the national ones, if you’re not.

As all these procedures are very complex, you really do need the help of an expert for the entire process.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Inheriting abroad (1)

The death of a loved one is always traumatic. Even more so if, as well as having to deal with the loss, you are the heir and have to go through a lot of complicated administrative procedures. Such red tape, a challenge everywhere, becomes an even bigger one when you live in a different country to where the estate of the deceased is located, or when their countries of residence and nationality are different.

In Europe, to initiate the transfer of ownership of the deceased’s property to your name, the first thing you need is a death certificate officially certifying the death. You get this certificate from the civil registry. For this certificate to be recognised in another country (e.g., for when a foreign national dies outside of Spain while owning property in Spain), it needs to be valid internationally, which can be attained with an official Apostille stamp.

In Spain, as well as certifying the death, you also have to certify the existence or absence of any wills executed in Spain. To do this, when you have the death certificate, you need to request a certificate from the Ministry of Justice’s General Register of Wills. If a will was executed in Spain before a Spanish notary public, the General Register will inform you before which notary public and on what date the deceased signed the will in Spain. As it is easy to be unaware of the existence of a will, the General Register of Wills is a great help and a way of protecting our rights. It also serves to certify when no wills have been executed in Spain.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Spain condemned to end the tax discrimination in the inheritance of non-residents

On November 16, 2011 we published an article on this blog about the accusation presented by the European Commission to the European Court against the Kingdom of Spain of discrimination against non-resident at the time of inheritance. After a long process, the judges in Luxembourg finally gave the reason to the Commission.

On September 3, 2014 the Court of the European Union ruled in the case C127/12, concerning an appeal of the European Commission against the Kingdom of Spain for not complying with the founding treaties of the European Union. In its statement, the Commission requested the Court to declare the breach of obligations of the Kingdom of Spain as European partner because of the introduction of differences in the tax on inheritance and in the gift tax, depending on the place of residence of the participants, that is, whether or not they are resident in Spain. In practice, upon the acceptance of the inheritance or donation in Spain, non-residents generally pay much higher taxes than residents.

This requirement of the European Commission was the end result of a process initiated in 2007, in which the European government had already asked Spain to change its laws concerning the taxation of the gift or inheritance. A little change was made, but it did not satisfy the Commission of the European Union, who filed a lawsuit in the Court of the European Union against Spain. The state attempted to defend itself, but the court concluded that the state law in the application of inheritance and gift tax discriminates against non-residents, and this discrimination is an affront to the freedom of movement of capital, one of the fundamental freedoms, which should save the Union.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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The new European Certificate of Succession

If at the moment of our death we still have property assets located in Spain, our heirs are obliged to fulfill a number of formalities requirements in order to register this property on their name. These processes will be facilitated in 2015 through the creation of a European Certificate of Succession.

We all want to be together with our beloved ones at the time of our death. And in most cases, these people close to us are going to be also our heirs. Therefore, during the registration of inheritance, it is desirable that the authorities our heirs will have to address to, were not too far away geographically from the place where we spend our last days with them.

Until now, for example, in the event of a German couple who had moved to Spain to spend his retirement in a property house, their heirs had to apply to the authorities in Germany for a certificate of succession, because according to the present laws only German authorities are competent in determining who the heir is. This led to the fact that  the spouse of the deceased, who had moved to live with him or her in Spain, and probably had no longer residence in Germany, was forced to travel to Germany to apply for the certificate of inheritance or had to entrust someone to get it .

A new European law, which applies in all the countries of the European Union, will try to lighten things up in this case we have just described by the new European Certificate of Succession, which is automatically recognized in all member states and may be issued by the authorities of the State  where the deceased had his habitual residence. But, on the other hand, we must take into account that the law of the State of habitual residence becomes the general rule of law applicable to the succession. It is therefore advisable to consult and be be aware of how this law will govern our inheritance and, if necessary, avoid unintended consequences through a notarized will.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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