Spain Explained

The Spanish will registry – a bureaucratic success

When you first buy a Spanish property with your partner, husband, wife or even friend, you have no idea what might happen in the future. In the excitement of making the purchase your thoughts are to the here and now and not the ‘what might be’.

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Unfortunately the unthinkable does sometimes happen. People split up, fall out, meet someone else. The co-owner you are so enraptured with in 2014 could become the bane of your life in a few years time. People become estranged for many different reasons and sadly, they also die. When this happens, there can be confusion about who might inherit a property in Spain.

It’s not often that we celebrate Spanish bureaucracy, but this is one time when it really does come into its own. All Spanish wills are registered in the will registry in Madrid (Registro Central de Ultimas Voluntades). This can appear at first to be another case of bureaucracy gone mad. In fact, it is really beneficial. Perhaps it’s best if we give you an example.

Mr and Mrs. Grant were a married couple who decided to move to Spain on their retirement. After ten happy years, sadly Mr Grant died leaving his share of the house and assets to his wife. Distraught at his death, Mrs Grant no longer wanted to continue living in Spain in the house they had shared so happily together. She decided to return to the UK and moved in with her cousin. However, her health soon deteriorated and not long after her husband, Mrs Grant died too.

Before she died, Mrs Grant had made a will in the UK. The new will left all her belongings to her cousin, in gratitude for the care she had given her following her husband’s death. However, it gradually transpired that the will Mrs Grant had made in the UK clearly stated that it only covered her assets there, and did not cover those in Spain.

So who was now entitled to Mrs Grant’s Spanish house? Originally Mr. and Mrs. Grant had made ‘mirror’ wills in which they would each inherit the other half’s property and which also included Mr. Grant’s children by a previous marriage. However, it was thought that Mrs. Grant may have made a new will in Spain too following Mr. Grant’s death, leaving the property to her cousin.

In order to settle the confusion the family asked Ábaco to apply to the central will registry in Madrid. They provided a copy of the death certificate and waited for confirmation of whether a new will had been made or not.

The outcome was not a happy one for Mrs. Grant’s cousin who discovered that no new will had been made and that the original will, which included Mr. Grant’s children, was still valid.

It is an unfortunate train of events. Mrs. Grant had never been close to her husband’s children and since he had died their links had become even more fragile. It is probable that she would not have chosen to leave the property to them.

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She may have been under the impression that her UK will would cover her Spanish assets too. Whatever the case, it would seem that the new inheritors have little intention of sorting out their inheritance just yet. Who knows whether the house in Spain will ever come to be as loved and cared for as it once was.

This shows just how important it is to make a will and keep it up-to-date if your circumstances change. An endorsement too of having a central will registry.

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34 comments

William John Robb

14 May, 2014 6:14 pm

Advised by our British
Advised by our British solicitors my wife attempted to change her address and passport details listed in her Spanish will. Her Notario who drew up her will, or at least his staff, told us that the will could not be altered in any way. They informed her that her will details were stored in the Central Will Registry in Madrid but gave her no further details. Are changes to address and passport numbers not important. Our daughter who is named in the will has married and has a new surname, again dismissed by the Notario’staff. Does she have a duty to update such details?

admin

20 May, 2014 4:01 pm

 

 
Dear William
Yes, the Notary staff were correct. All Spanish wills are registered at a central registry in Madrid and no changes can be made after registration. To alter your wishes, such as bequeathing to different inheritors, these must  be registered by making a new will which completely cancels out the previous one. Changes to passport numbers, names, addresses etc. do not necessitate making a new will. When an inheritance takes place the Notary will identify the deceased and the inheritors by their old and new documentation, marriage certificate etc. Knowing that addresses can often change, these are not considered important for identification purposes.

Garry Hall

17 June, 2014 2:30 pm

My step mother remarried and
My step mother remarried and moved to Spain. She and her husband made ‘mirror wills’ and the spanish property was left to me upon their deaths to pay towards the care for my step sister who needs 24 hour support.

I have now found out that a new will may have been made after the husband had died but I assumed a trust was set in place upon his death and the will could not be changed.

I will still have to care for and unsure of my position regarding the mirror wills.

admin

20 June, 2014 1:38 pm

Dear Garry

Dear Garry
It depends on who your step-mother and her husband named as their first inheritor. You mention that they made "mirror wills" and although this is not a legal term we presume that in their individual wills they named each other as the first inheritor and you as the substitute.
 
If they would have died simultaneously you would have become the first inheritor. However, as one died before the other the remaining spouse became the first inheritor, in this case your step mother. She inherited her husband's assets and is at liberty to make a new will bequeathing what are now her assets to the inheritor of her choice. Trusts are rarely recognised under Spanish Law and so it is highly unlikely that one would be mentioned in a Spanish will.
 
Please note this information is based on a general assumption and without seeing the will we cannot comment more precisely.

Charles Monksfield

19 October, 2014 3:18 pm

I have been informed I have
I have been informed I have been left my friend villa in Spain. Can I write to the Central Will Registry in Spain to find out if this is correct. I know for a fact that there was a first Will which will be obsolete if true.
What information do I have to send if I can do this.

admin

18 November, 2014 1:26 pm

Dear Charles

Dear Charles

The Central Wills Registry will only inform you of the date of the last will of the deceased and in which Notary it is held. You will then need to request an official copy of the will from the Notary but it will only be given if you are named in it as an inheritor. 

Emelie Fitzgerald

9 November, 2014 1:33 pm

My father died in Tenerife,
My father died in Tenerife, he was of british nationality and him and my mother were diveorced. He died in 2007 and left behind a house in Tenerife, unfortunately he left no will as his death was unexpected. I think I am right in saying under spanish law this means that my brother and I inhertit his estate but I still need a certificate from the central will registry in Madrid but am un aware of how to do this.
How do I contact the Registry and what information do I need to send

admin

18 November, 2014 1:20 pm

Dear Emelie

Dear Emelie

If your father died leaving no will at all in any country then it will be considered under British succession law and Spanish succession law that his Spanish estate should pass equally to his children. To establish if he did or did not sign a will in Spain you will need to obtain a certificate from the Central Wills Registry in Madrid. To do this you will need to present an original death certificate or notarised copy of his death certificate. 

christine nie

8 January, 2015 11:16 am

My ex. Husband died in spain
My ex. Husband died in spain in 2006. He leaves one daughter. I would like to know if I can find out if he left a will in spain. And if so can I obtain a copy. We were informed of his death by his sister and aside from that have no further information. He lived in the Lazenia, Alicante area. I dont know if he rented or owned the property.

admin

8 January, 2015 3:47 pm

Hi Christine

Hi Christine

Thanks for your query. Anyone can apply for a Last Will certificate known as Certificado de Actos de Última Voluntad or AUV in Spain. An application can be presented anytime after 15 days have passed after the day of death in Madrid at the Central Wills Registry or the nearest office of the Ministry of Justice or at the local Civil Registry Office. There is a fee to pay when presenting the application form. 

The document required is an original death certificate or a notarised copy of a death certificate. If it is a non-Spanish death certificate it must bear the seal of the Apostile of the Hague and be translated by an official translator. 

The AUV is issued within 15 days. If there is no will registered in Spain from the deceased the certificate will be negative. If there is a will the certificate will state the date and at which Notary office the will was signed and is held at. The inheritors can then apply for an official copy of the will from the Notary. It will only be issued to the inheritors named in the will or their legal representatives. 

Jennifer Alvite

16 January, 2015 5:18 am

I need to know if my dad who
I need to know if my dad who has passed away December 31, 2014, I need to know if he has a will in Spain, how can I find out?

admin

20 January, 2015 11:44 am

Dear Jennifer

Dear Jennifer

I am sorry to hear about your loss. As mentioned in a previous answer, you can apply for a Last Will certificate at the Central Wills Registry in Madrid or the nearest office of the Ministry of Justice or at the local Civil Registry Office. You will need to have the original death certificate or a notarised copy of a death certificate and pay a fee. 

The certificate should be issued within 15 days. If no will is registered in Spain then the certificate will be negative. If there is a will the certificate will state the date and at which Notary office the will was signed and where it is held. If you are an inheritor, then you will be able to apply for an official copy. 

Jane

25 March, 2015 6:56 pm

Our father died 4months ago
Our father died 4months ago in the Uk, he has Spanish property. A death certificate was sent to his Soanish English speaking solicitors, for them to apply for the last will certificate, to see who the property us left to. Despite numerous emails and phone calls they say it has not yet arrived and nay be another 2 months. Is this the norm? Can we get the certificate if not the inheritors? It is urgently required for probate in Uk

Suzanne O'Connell

7 April, 2015 3:31 pm

I am sorry to hear about your

I am sorry to hear about your father. The process is to apply first for the last will certificate. This is relatively quick to receive. The certificate will state whether there is a will in Spain and, if so, which Notary it was signed in front of. The next stage is to apply for an official copy of the will on behalf of the inheritors. For this a power of attorney is needed. This part of the process can take a few weeks. You should be aware that in the end the Notary will only provide a copy of the will to the inheritors. 

S.Groves

8 January, 2016 9:31 am

My father died 22/10/15 as a
My father died 22/10/15 as a resident since 2003 in Valencia region. He did not amend his will which he had made in 2005 to comply with the regulations prior to 17/8/15 therefore we have been advised this now falls under Spanish law. He was married at time of death but not to our mother. He had initially made a mirrored will leaving everything to his wife including a flat and money. We received an email from her notary stating 2/3rds of his will now comes to us his 5 children. The wife States we need to renounce the will in her favour which we don’t want to do. What do we need to do? How much does it cost and how long does it take if we tried to contest the will to get our share? How do we find a lawyer to represent us in Spain?

Suzanne O'Connell

13 January, 2016 12:43 pm

Thanks for your enquiry. You

Thanks for your enquiry. You do not have to renounce the will and have no need to contest it as it is in your favour. You now need to put the inheritance process into place which means contacting a solicitor who specialises in this. It costs around €4,000 to cover the probate procedure. If you are not intending to come over to Spain then you might find a solicitor on the internet.  

Colin

27 May, 2016 5:25 am

My father is a long-term
My father is a long-term resident in Spain. He has a will made in Spain that states that he wishes it to be under the jurisdiction of the law of England and Wales. Almost all of his assets are in the UK and there are no property assets at all. Is a separate English will required or is the Spanish one sufficient to deal with the UK assets? Does the Spanish will need to be translated?

Suzanne O'Connell

2 June, 2016 10:07 am

Your father can make a

Your father can make a Spanish will which will be in Spanish and English to cover his world wide assets under UK succession law or he could make two separate wills if preferred. 

Susan

20 July, 2016 9:09 am

Hi. My Father and step mother
Hi. My Father and step mother lived in Spain for 10 years before he died in 2009. I know they had both done wills. No idea if it was a mirror will or not. I asked to see the will but my stepmother reassured me all was taken care of. Now all these years later every time I ask what will happen when she dies to the villa she says it will be equally split between all step children. I have never seen any documentation and she doesnt allow me to see his death ertfificate. She is 70 now and I am worried she can cut me out ?
How can I obtain a copy of my fathers and her wills when I know nothing about where they were done ? Can I still get this information if I have no death certificate ? Also, I know I was named in the will. My eldest half Brother had arguments with her around the funeral as he wasn’t allowed to see anything and he is sure he was my Father’s executor. He has since passed away. Where can I go from here as Ithink the Spanish Laws have changed and now my stepmother may have made a new will in the uk. Thanks

Suzanne O'Connell

29 July, 2016 6:14 am

Hi Susan

Hi Susan

An original death certificate or legalised copy of the same is necessary to
apply for the "Certificado de Actos de Última Voluntad" to establish if
there is a will registered in Spain and in which Notary office it was signed
and on which date. This certificate is applied for and issued by the
Ministry of Justice. Only an inheritor can apply for an official copy of the will from the
Notary.

WILLIAM SUMMER

13 October, 2016 4:15 pm

My mother passed away in
My mother passed away in early 2014 while living in Spain (since 2001) and we do not know the contents of her will. Her husband (not our father) told us that they had a “mirror will” and stated at the time of her funeral that it was her wish to leave a percentage of their house in Spain when sold, to the 3 children (of which I am one) and 3 grandchildren. We spent an afternoon at a local UK solicitor as he said we would have to provide documentation to their Spanish lawyer as proof to who we were in regards to this matter but in the end nothing was actually needed at the time and we heard nothing more, presuming that when the house was sold it would be relevant. The house was finally sold in late 2014 and when we asked about the money we were told there was no money for the family and none of the former issues discussed were relevant. One presumes she had never legally documented this and that he as the first inheritor was not going to proceed per her wishes. I have acquired her death certificate and will be requesting a last will and certificate. What are the options here regarding the law and a % of a Spanish property going to the children and would there be any possibility of recovering the % of money that we know my mother wished the children and grandchildren to have by challenging this?

Suzanne O'Connell

20 October, 2016 9:50 am

Dear William

Dear William

Thank you for your enquiry. It sounds as though your mother left her share of the property to her husband. When it was sold, presumably it was sold by him. As such, you would have no further claim on the property. Had her husband died first then the situation would have been different. 

Mr Paul Soulsby Williamson

9 November, 2016 8:53 am

I am an English notary asked
I am an English notary asked to authenticate a Spanish will which will be prepared in dual colimn Spanish/English like a will made by a Spanish notary. I am asked to register the will once apostilled at the Wills Registry in Madrid. Can you register the will for me and if so please let me know what it will cost.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Soulsby Williamson

tel: +44 1442 862475

Suzanne O'Connell

9 November, 2016 11:44 am

Hello Paul

Hello Paul

Thanks very much for your enquiry. Could you email Gema on gs@abacoadvisers.com and she will be able to help you. 

Stephen Congalton

5 April, 2017 7:47 pm

Dear Sir/Madam
Dear Sir/Madam

I am looking to view a will in Spain which was writtein by my step fathers will, the reason I ask is that my step fathers lawyer informed my brother (verbally) that my family were mentioned, now my step brother says this is not the case.

I have since asked the same lawyer if we can see the document which In all honesty is for piece of mind. She replied this is not possible but I am able to view the UK will online.

I am struggling to understand why she will not show me this as I am aware the UK will states “I hereby revoke all other wills” and that is dated months before my step fathers passing.

It would help us get some closure to see it and understand what happened, I have the death certificate which i know is important.

Yours Sincerely

Stephen Congalton

Suzanne O'Connell

20 April, 2017 10:58 am

Dear Stephen 

Dear Stephen 

All wills in Spain are registered at the central wills registry in Madrid. To obtain a copy you must apply to the registry sending a copy of the death certificate. The wills registry will respond by issuing a certificate stating in which Notary office the last will was signed and on which date. 

If you are an inheritor you can apply to the Notary office for a copy of the will. If you are not a named inheritor you will be denied a copy. 

No inheritance procedure can proceed in Spain without all named inheritors being acknowledged and participating, even if they decide to revoke their inheritance. 

Rosemary Shirley

8 April, 2017 1:23 pm

There is a dispute in the
There is a dispute in the family as to who inherits under my late uncle’s Spanish will. I am making enquiries on behalf of a cousin, who has disabilities, who has been disinherited under his father’s UK will and has been told that by the Trustee of that will the Spanish will is the same, but we doubt there was time for the Spanish will to be changed. I have noted only an inheritor can be given the information. Is the right course of action to obtain the death certificate, have it translated, and make a submission in my cousin’s name? If he is refused a sight of the will then we know he is not an inheritor. Do we then go through the process again with others who may be inheritors? His sister is holding all the cards and is the only one with access to this information which she will not reveal to her brother.

Suzanne O'Connell

20 April, 2017 10:50 am

Dear Rosemary

Dear Rosemary

Yes, you are correct in the course of action you suggest. The system has been created to accommodate Spain's succession law that it applies to its own nationals. With this in mind it is usually apparent who is/ are the inheritors. When foreign nationals are involved and other succession laws are applied it proves to be more complicated to establish the actual inheritors. 

No inheritance procedure can proceed in Spain without all named inheritors being acknowledged and participating, even if they decide to revoke their inheritance. 

Pauline Gillings

26 April, 2017 11:43 am

Some years ago I had a will
Some years ago I had a will drawn up by a solicitor. This was taken to the Notory, read to me in English and Spanish and signed at the time. However it was months before I received the bill from the solicitor, when I went to pay the bill I found the solicitor office was no longer there. My question and worry is. Is my will still valid as I have still not been able to pay the bill?????
Thank you.

Suzanne O'Connell

9 May, 2017 7:57 am

Dear Pauline

Dear Pauline

If you signed the will before the Notary it will be valid. However, you may still owe a fee to the Notary if your solicitor did not pay it on your behalf. You can request this information and a copy of the will directly at the Notary office. 

Rosie

1 July, 2017 3:11 pm

My friends son has a father
My friends son has a father now deceased for many years..his father said to him to go to a certain bank if anything happened to him .the son was very young at the time and didn’t take much notice ..How do we apply for a copy of his father’s will .?

Suzanne O'Connell

4 July, 2017 9:16 am

Dear Rosie

Dear Rosie

He can check whether there is a Spanish will at the Registry in Madrid. He must present an application for 'Acta ultima Voluntad'. If you google 'Spanish will registry Madrid' you can access it online and it is in English too. 

John

17 March, 2020 4:16 pm

Even if a UK Will is the later Will (2017) can a Spanish (2002) Will also remain valid? If so, on what grounds?

Oscar Paoli

20 March, 2020 3:43 pm

Hi John,
Both wills can be valid provided that there is no contradition between them and that the last one does not revoke the previous will. If, for example, each of them refers to different assets, that is, assets in different countries, both wills could be valid.
Kind regards,
Ábaco Advisers