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Forced Heirs

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One of the most common misconceptions when people buy property abroad is that they will be forced to leave their assets in that country to certain people and will have to follow the law of that country.

It might be helpful to understand a bit of background on this subject before going on to discuss the actual situation. In the UK we are used to being able to leave our assets to whoever we wish. However, in many countries when you die you have to leave your property to certain designated people. This typically happens in Europe in countries which are based on Napoleonic Law such as France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. It also happens in Islamic countries under Sharia Law.

Strangely it also happens in Louisiana.

Let us take the example of Spain as it is one of the most popular countries where British people buy properties in. If you are Spanish you have to leave your assets to certain designated people. Essentially your assets are dividing up into thirds. One third has to be left to children in equal shares. A third can be left to children in whatever shares you wish (although unless you specify the shares it is divided equally amongst the children). The last third you can leave to whoever you want. If you don’t have children then there are rules which dictate who the assets should be left to.

Many people have heard of the forced heirs in Spain and assume that they apply to any assets in Spain. This is not correct and has never been the case. Spain has always allowed the law of your nationality to apply to your assets in Spain and therefore these Forced Heirs rules do not apply if you are not Spanish. Therefore if you are British, for example, you can leave your assets in Spain in accordance with British Law.

Set of wooden figures

Since August 2015 when the EU Succession Regulation came in to existence, the laws within Europe have changed substantially and this has confused things slightly. But with a bit of forward planning things can remain the same as they were. Again if we take the example of Spain the law now states that it is the law of your residence that applies to your assets. Therefore in theory if you are living in Spain then the Forced Heirs should apply. However, the law also states that if you leave a Will then you can opt to have the law of your nationality apply. Therefore you can make a Spanish Will which states that you wish to leave your assets in accordance with the law of your Nationality and you then don’t have to follow the Forced Heirs law that applies in Spain.

If you would like to know more about Forced Heirs, Inheritances generally or how to make a Will for your overseas assets then you can contact our international Wills and Inheritance team.

Disclaimer – International legal issues are a complex area of law and this information is no substitute for independent legal advice on an individual basis taking into consideration your personal circumstances and legal requirements. This information is provided to provide general information only and was correct at the time of publishing. The legal position in relation to international transactions can change frequently and this page may not have been updated following any changes in the law. You should therefore not rely on this information and should seek legal advice in relation to your personal circumstances.