Inheriting property in Spain? Pros and cons of using a European Certificate of Succession, as opposed to a Declaration of Law

This article explains when you can use a European Certificate of Succession in an inheritance process in Spain, and the pros and cons of doing so.

Since 2015 it has been possible to use the European Certificate of Succession for inheritances within the European Union, instead of the normal Declaration of Law of the foreign notary.

This international certificate is a standard fill-out form in English, introduced by the European Union, with the purpose of making the procedure easier and cheaper. It can also be used when inheriting Spanish properties, in cases where jurisdictions overlap.  A foreign jurisdiction takes precedence if the deceased was not a resident of Spain or appointed the law of another EU jurisdiction (of the deceased’s nationality) through a last will, which is almost always recommendable.  

Under the right conditions, using the voluntary European Certificate of Succession can avoid the cost of signing Inheritance Deeds at a Spanish notary, and should enable you to change the name on the title deeds of a property inscribed in the Land Registry. So, in which cases, exactly, can you use the European Certificate of Succession? And what are the positive and negative sides you need to know?

When can you use the European Certificate of Succession?

When an heir wants to inscribe a Spanish property in his or her name in the Land Registry (Registro de la Propiedad), or change a bank account with only the European Certificate of Law (so instead of the normal Inheritance Deeds), the international inheritance case needs to comply with the following requirements:

  1. Only one heir
  2. No other interested parties, with the right to a reserved share under the national law (for example children with a ‘legitimate’ legal claim)
  3. No authorized person to conduct the inheritance process
  4. Only for European inheritance procedures, excluding the British, Danish and Irish

What are the benefits of this international inheritance certificate?

As mentioned, the costs of the Spanish Inheritance Deeds can be avoided in the Spanish part of the inheritance process if the case complies with the above requirements. These notary costs can be large, especially in relation to smaller inheritances, so in theory this is positive. In addition, as the European Certificate of Law is an English and standard format you can save costs on the legal translation of the normal Declaration of Law and the obliged Apostille of The Hague.

Downsides of the European Certificate of Succession for Spanish inheritances

Unfortunately, in our experience, the downsides outway the benefits of this Certificate for the following reasons.

  • As we said, it can only be used in few cases.
  • You can save costs on the legal translation plus Apostille of The Hague, but in our experience, foreign notaries charge significantly more for the European Certificate of Law than for their own standard format of the Declaration of Law.
  • Another huge disadvantage is that you still need to provide the Land Registry or bank several official documents that are normally included in the Spanish inheritance deeds (check C&D Solicitor’s website for the exact list). Also, you still need a short document from the notary in which the legal heir asks for the name change. This also means that signing a Power of Attorney to your lawyer is still required.
  • However, the most important downside is that you have no guarantees that you won’t need to sign the Spanish Inheritance Deeds after all, now or in the future, as the authorities always have the right to request this document.

Advice for using the European Certificate of Succession

With the above in mind, in the opinion of our law firm, C&D Solicitors in Malaga, Andalusia, it’s better to not use the European Certificate of Succession when a Spanish inheritance process involves real estate. However, if the inheritance only applies to a bank account, then it’s worth the effort to calculate the potential cost/benefit.

Read more on our website about the European Certificate of Succession. You can also watch our video on international inheritances in Spain below.