International Legacies

Every year, thousands of rightful heirs lose money or property that was theirs due to unclaimed international inheritances. In Spain, around 17,600 foreigners died in 2021, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE); while, in that same year, just over 5,200 deaths of Spaniards outside our borders were registered.
In the specific case of Spain, around 100 million euros are lost annually due to inheritances without known heirs, according to calculations by Coutot Roehrig Iberia. In most cases, these successions are not processed because the heir is unaware of his condition, which prevents them from enjoying a heritage that also generates high tax losses.

Why is there such a high number of unclaimed inheritances?
It is increasingly common for citizens to live and have assets in other countries. The problem is that when a person who has assets in several countries dies, the process to claim his inheritance is complicated by ignorance about the legislation or cultural and linguistic differences. Many times the deceased has not left a will, which further complicates the process.

What are the main problems legitimate heirs face when it comes to unclaimed international inheritances?
In the case of international inheritances, the main problem lies in the legislative complexity of each country. The European Regulation 650/2012 of International Inheritances establishes as applicable law that of the country where the deceased had his habitual residence. However, it also allows the deceased to choose the law of his country of origin to govern his succession, as long as this will is expressed in a mortis causa provision, such as a will.

What factors can complicate the probate process?
When it comes to an international succession, the process can be even more complex if the assets are located in different countries and the heirs live in different places. There are many variables that influence the process and that govern inheritance law when there is an element of foreigners.
Each country has its own rules as to who has the right to inherit and who does not. For this reason, we recommend granting the will in the country where the heirs actually reside, instead of looking for alternatives to pay less taxes.

How can legitimate heirs ensure that they receive what is due to them?
In the inheritance of foreigners residing in Spain, in addition to having legal advice, the creation of a family company can be considered, which can be useful to maintain the assets in the family and avoid possible conflicts or disputes.

The tax regime applied in successions must also be taken into account in order to maximize tax efficiency and minimize the impact of taxes. If the heirs reside in Spain, they will be subject to Spanish Inheritance and Gift Tax and will be eligible for the discounts of the autonomous community in which they live. In the case of not residing in Spain, the taxation is also governed by the Spanish tax, but only when they are goods within our borders.