Making a will in Spain is not compulsory but it’s a good idea. It cuts down on the work and expense for those you leave behind you. However, you need to think carefully about what it might contain not only from the point of view of Spanish inheritance tax but also changing circumstances. Changing a Spanish will is not just a matter of altering a few sentences or adjusting the wording. Instead, the whole document needs to be re-written.
There is a good reason for this. In Spain, unlike in some other European countries, every will is registered in Madrid. This is a good system that ensures that every will can be easily located. However, it does mean that changing a will in Spain is not so easy to do. Once your will is legalised and signed by the notary, Madrid is informed and then it is set in stone until the next one.
You cannot easily change your will in Spain. Each will is registered in Madrid and any new instructions require a new will to be made. This does have advantages, as there should be no confusion about when the last will was made or who has it.
When you do make that decision to make a will in Spain, make sure you have done your research. Inheritance tax is a much bigger issue here than in the UK and your relationship to inheritors and whether property is located makes a big difference.
In Spain there are four levels at which ISD (inheritance tax) is paid:
- Level 1 = children and grandchildren (including adopted) under the age of 21
- Level 2 = children and grandchildren over the age of 21, spouses and parent
- Level 3 = other relatives such as brothers and sisters, in-laws, cousins, aunts and uncles
- Level 4 = everyone else including unmarried partners
If you are not married, your partner belongs to the ‘any other person’ level of inheritance tax. Being Spain, it does vary for residents between autonomous regions. It is certainly worth establishing what rules apply to you as it affects both the level of allowance you can have as well as the % of the property value you must pay tax on.
There’s another reason why you should give very careful consideration to your will-making in Spain. If you should change your mind it’s not so easy to amend the paper work. Once your will is made and legalised by the notary you cannot change it at all. Instead, you have to make a new one.
The reason for this, is that every will has to be signed at the notary in Spain and the notary must register it in Madrid. This means that there can be no dispute about which is the last will and testament. Generally this is an advantage of the Spanish system. When someone dies, a quick check with Madrid and the whereabouts of the last will and testament can be confirmed.
Unfortunately it does mean that you can’t change your will as easily as you can change your mind. Our recommendation is that when making your will you are cautious about specifying in too much detail or referring to individual properties and possessions. Obviously, there are some circumstances that might alter and cannot be helped, justifying a re-write. You may well move house and sell your property and having to change your will becomes an added complication. Keeping directions more general can help avoid unnecessary expense at a later date. It is much better to keep your wishes more general in the first place so that you don’t incur the extra expense of having to make a new one.