Several of our friends have died this year. It comes to us all eventually; death, that is. As the old adage goes, ‘the two certainties in life are death and taxation’, and the death of family and close friends certainly concentrates the mind. Without being too morbid about the issue, I guess the only way to deal with it, as it is a certainty, is that we had better ensure that we make a good job of it, and not create too much of a burden for others after our passing.
A few days ago, I received an email from a recently retired British couple, who had moved to Spain and needed a will to cover their new property. They asked if they could simply update their UK wills, or whether they need to have new ones prepared especially for their new assets in Spain?
There seems to be considerable uncertainty amongst many expats, who think that as they have a will in the UK, there is no need to have one in Spain. I still even meet expats who boast over their gin and tonics that they have no written wills at all, and that Spanish inheritance laws will deal nicely with the issue when the time comes. Maybe this is the case, but only after considerable expense and distress for those that they leave behind.
This often-held view about inheritance laws may be partly true if the transfer of the estate is a simple one; for example, from husband to wife. However, it is not without considerable expense and delays for heirs if there is no Spanish will and executors have to rely on a UK will. The reason is that Spanish inheritance laws are very different from those in the UK, and that there is no guarantee that assets will be distributed in the way that the deceased had intended.
The message is clear; it is important that expats with property or other assets in the country make a Spanish will. Having a Spanish will does not mean that your UK will is forgotten. However, your UK will would be concerned only with those assets that you still own in the UK, whilst your Spanish will would deal with your Spanish property and assets. Needless to say, it is very important that you continue to update both wills should circumstances change, such as separation, divorce or death of a partner.
It is important to remember that if an update to your UK will is required, your Spanish will is not revoked in the process. The best way to overcome this issue is to ensure that the first clause of your UK will has words to the effect of “I revoke all my earlier UK Wills, but not my Spanish Will”, or words to that effect.
In many of the expat destinations in Spain there are a number of people who will offer to prepare your Spanish will for you. Be careful with this one; my best advice is to have it prepared by a suitably qualified Spanish lawyer, and registered at the Central Wills Registry in Madrid.