Spanish law when someone diesNo Will - Intestacy

For anyone not domiciled in Spain, then the laws of succession of the country where they are nationals shall be applied. If a valid will has not been written that means that the rules of intestacy of that country shall apply.

Below is a brief summary of some of the more important rules of intestacy in the UK, Ireland and Spain.

Rules of Intestacy – England & Wales

Married couples or civil partners can inherit under the rules of intestacy in England and Wales. So if a couple has divorced, the ex-spouse will not inherit although informal separations do not prohibit from inheriting.

Where an estate is valued at more than £250,000, and the deceased has left no valid will evidencing how the assets should be distributed, any spouse or civil partner inherits:

  • All the personal property and belongings of the person who has died, and
  • The first £250,000 of the estate, and
  • A life interest in half of the remaining estate (the spouse or partner can benefit from that half but not sell or spend it).

A distinction should be made where any property or bank accounts were owned ‘jointly’ by the couple as in those cases the assets belonging to the deceased would automatically pass to the surviving spouse.

The couple’s children will inherit one-half of an estate over £250,000. If there is more than one child that half is shared equally.

Rules of Intestacy – Scotland

The rules of intestacy in Scotland are rather different to those in England & Wales and are found in the Succession (Scotland) Act 1964 as amended.

Firstly, any debts owed by the deceased must be dealt with. The surviving spouse is the primary beneficiary under Scottish intestacy rules.

In Scotland the surviving spouse is entitled to what is known as ‘prior’ which means a right to any:

    • House (up to a value of £300,000)
      • Furniture (up to a value of £24,000)
    • Cash (up to a value of £42,000 if children, or £75,000 if no children)

‘Moveable and ‘Heritable’ Estates

After this it should be noted that Scottish rules of intestacy distinguish between a ‘moveable’ and a ‘heritable’ estate. The former relates to cash, jewelry, car, shares etc. The latter relates to property and land.

Once the prior rights have been distributed to the surviving spouse, the moveable estate is distributed as follows:

  • One-third to the surviving spouse or one-half if no children,
  • One-third to the children or one-half if no surviving spouse,
  • One-third to the free estate

The ‘free’ estate refers to that which is left after debts, prior rights and legal rights. The free estate should be distributed equally among the children or if no children then jointly to brothers and sisters and parents followed by brothers and sisters solely then parents solely…and so on down the line of succession until the Crown.

Should a husband and wife or civil partners die together in circumstances where it is not possible to determine who predeceased who, then for the purposes of intestacy in Scotland both are said to have predeceased the other when considering the rights of beneficiaries to their mutual estates. As a result each is ignored when considering the legitimate heirs to each others’ estate.

Should there have been a judicial separation then the husband is barred from inheriting the wife’s estate but the reverse does not hold and a wife would not be so barred. Divorced partners do not benefit from each others estate.

It is important to note that under Scottish inheritance law, a testator does not have 100% freedom of disposition of personal assets and a beneficiary may choose to inherit under the laws of succession or under the will (if named as a beneficiary). However, the beneficiary must renounce one or the other.

Rules of Intestacy – Northern Ireland

The rules of intestacy in Northern Ireland may be summarised as follows –

If there are no children (or other relatives):

  • The surviving spouse or registered civil partner inherits all of the estate

If there are children:

    • The surviving spouse or registered civil partner inherits personal assets such as car, jewelry, art collection, household goods
    • Equity in the estate (inc. property etc) up to £250,000
  • A life interest in one-half of any remainder if one child or one-third if more than one child

If there are no children/grandchildren but parents alive:

  • The surviving spouse inherits personal assets, the estate up to a value of £450,000 and one-half of the remainder (not a life interest)
  • Parents inherit the remaining half
  • If parents no longer alive then brothers and sisters share the remaining half equally

In Northern Ireland as in other jurisdictions in the UK, a divorced spouse receives no interest in the estate but a merely separated spouse would.

Rules of Intestacy – Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland it should be understood that whether or not a will has been created there are minimum guarantees for surviving spouses that ensure that they will inherit a minimum portion of the estate.

So even where a will has been made, the following applies:

  • Where there are no children of the marriage a spouse is entitled to one-half of the estate
  • Where there are children a spouse is entitled to a minimum of one-third of the estate
  • If there is a surviving spouse, no children but  there are surviving grandchildren then the spouse is entitled to one-half of the estate

In general, where there is no valid will, the following rules of intestacy apply:

    • Where there are no children, the spouse inherits the entire estate
  • Where there are children and a surviving spouse, the spouse inherits two-thirds of the estate

Rules of Intestacy – Spain

Spanish succession law operates a system of ‘forced heirs’ and only a minor portion of any estate may be freely distributed by the testator.

Should a person die intestate in Spain and the Spanish rules of intestacy apply then the first matter than needs to be defined is the size of the estate. If the deceased was married and the marriage was classified as a ‘sociedad de gananciales’ (the most typical in Spain) then under Spanish law, assets obtained during the life-time of a marriage are shared.

Accordingly, the deceased spouse may transmit only one-half of those assets upon death.

Other assets accumulated outside of the marriage – for example before the marriage or a personal inheritance from a parent – are added to this one-half to form the inheritance.

Rules for the Distribution of Assets 

Spanish law stipulates that in the absence of a valid will assets should be distributed as follows:

  • Equally to any children of the marriage (or if any child has predeceased the parent then to their children per stirpes),
  • If no children, equally to surviving parents,
  • If no surviving parents then to the closest of other surviving ascendants (uncles, aunts, grandparents),
    • In the absence of surviving ascendants, to the surviving spouse,
  • If no surviving spouse then to brothers and sisters

The outcome described above may be completely at odds with the preferred outcome and so it is important to make a will that covers Spanish assets to prevent this occurring.

39 Lawyers Offering Services in Spain

Testimonials for Probate Law
  • Gail Maher
    Gail Maher, Torrenueva

    Alvaro is brilliant.


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    Very satisfied with the service. Would definitely recommend to friends.


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    Luis Gonzalez Lunden, Canada

    Rosa responded very promptly to our inquiry, grasped our needs immediately, and provided an excellent solution which was delivered seamlessly. Rosa thoroughly explained the intricacies of the local legal system, providing options and considerations.


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    Sep 21, 2019
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    Mr Swildens, Alicante and Belgium

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    Inmaculada has always responded to all my queries and explained and provided excellent solutions. She is very approachable, diligent and professional.


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    Ole Sørensen

    Fast and good follow up by Erardo.


    Jul 30, 2019
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    Franco Trio, United Kingdom

    Rosa always responded promptly to any email I sent.


    She kept me informed and provided alternatives and 3rd party services (translation).


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    Apr 10, 2019
  • Claire
    Claire, Valencia

    Ramon was very helpful and professional. He listened to our requests carefully and we will be using him again if we need anymore legal services.


    Mar 28, 2019
  • Colin Johnson
    Colin Johnson, Sevilla

    Very helpful, especially as English and Spanish law has it's differences and my final document - a testament -  required the services of a notary and the final translation.


    A pleasure to meet Rafael and to discuss my needs and he made the whole process straightforward with lots of common sense solutions. ***** 5 stars and highly recommended.


    Mar 15, 2019
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    Gary Moore, Gandia

    Fransisca is 1st class and very professional and extremely caring


    Mar 12, 2019
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    Gary Moore, Gandia

    Francisca is a first-class Professional ' puts u at ease.


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    Alison Hamilton, Fuengirola

    Kept us informed every step of the way, very efficient and very pro active.


    Absolutely excellent!


    Feb 12, 2019
  • Kevin
    Kevin, Algarobba Costa

    Clear information throughout, well explained and always had my confidence.


    Jan 08, 2019
  • Jason Yorke
    Jason Yorke, United Kingdom

    Beatriz was really helpful and always kept me informed at all stages. She is very professional and a pleasure to deal with.


    Jul 19, 2018
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    Patrick Crean, Almerimar

    Juan was fantastic. Very easy to understand and very pleasant. I would definitely use his service again.


    Jul 05, 2018
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    Susanna Buckley, United Kingdom

    Lidia is very approachable and friendly and I never felt that anything was a problem.


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    Jun 20, 2018
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    Barry Gracey, Melbourne, Australia

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    I was very happy with the service provided and if needed would use him in the future


    May 07, 2018
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    Julia Alcock, Puerto Rico, Gran Canaria

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    Feb 22, 2018
  • Richard & Maria
    Richard & Maria, United Kingdom

    Rossana was perfect for our needs.


    Always helpful and supportive, particularly when we were becoming anxious about the continuing Spanish property and inheritance taxes, she always explained how these were calculated.


    We have dealt remotely (email/text/phone) and in face to face meetings and would have no hesitation in future instructions or recommending to others.


    Jan 10, 2018
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    John Crompton, UK

    Very satisfied with the service that Oliver provided.


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    Nov 25, 2017
  • K West
    K West, Nerja

    Beatriz spoke English more or less fluently, and put me and my wife at ease with what can be a difficult process. She could have improved on written communication at the end of the process but would definitely use her services again.


    Aug 07, 2017
  • Michael Tenerife
    Michael Tenerife, UK

    Rosa excelled in all of the criteria listed for evaluation.


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    Jackie Stevenson, Gran Canaria

    Esther is informative and extremely helpful and above all very professional.


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    Jul 19, 2017
  • Richard Anthony Poole
    Richard Anthony Poole, Johannesburg, South Africa

    Very responsive, very understanding, value for money, has a great ability to explain and provide the appropriate legal solutions, very approachable and very professional in dealing me.


    May 03, 2017
  • LM
    LM, Ibiza

    Cristina was amazing and very helpful and i would highly recommend her services again.


    I am very satisfied and I definitely would use the same lawyer again in the future.


    Mar 10, 2017
  • Mike B
    Mike B, South of England

    Beatriz responded immediately to my first approach and always quickly thereafter, understood and knew the law/background, carried out local activities in addition on my behalf, good value for money, helped us through an unfamiliar situation very well in a personable and pleasant way.


    People had warned me the key to this was finding a trustworthy lawyer in Spain so I approached a couple of lawyers in Nerja and judged on their first response, Beatriz obviously passed that test.


    Dec 15, 2016
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    AS, Denmark

    Jose was very helpful, always happy to assist.


    I am very satisfied the service provided by my lawyer.


    Dec 08, 2016
  • Mark Watson
    Mark Watson, Scotland

    Rosa was very professional.


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    Nov 23, 2016
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    Diana Rawstron, London

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    Nov 03, 2016
  • AD
    AD, Alicante

    Jose gave me information on tax implications of different inheritance options, with forms, figures and useful advice for the future.


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    Oct 15, 2016
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    JMH, Mallorca

    I was able to talk things through and my lawyer was able to help me find solutions and alternatives to my problems without it costing a fortune but providing me with what I needed.


    Rosa was very approachable and professional.


    Oct 11, 2016
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    Caroline & Kevin, UK

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    His English is excellent and he offered excellent value for money.


    Sep 02, 2016
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    Brian Eastwood, Ibiza

    Extremely professional and able to convey everything perfectly in English. The service provided was very efficient, quick and friendly.


    The rate quoted for the work was better than similar legal practices in Santa Eularia del Rio and Ibiza town.


    We have already recommended Cristina to several other people.


    Mar 07, 2016
  • AHJ
    AHJ, Alicante

    I found José personable, articulate and very helpful.


    Almost all reasons for going to a lawyer are stressful but I found his manner and advice made the process of my divorce straightforward and without complications.


    Mar 07, 2016
  • M Breeze
    M Breeze, Nuneaton

    Very satisfied with the service.


    Erardo was extremely helpful – he couldn’t have done more. I will definitely use his services in the future.


    Feb 25, 2016
  • Alan lewis
    Alan lewis, UK

    Our lawyer was friendly, took trouble to understand our problems and charged a reasonable fee. The whole process was easy and efficient.


    Nov 01, 2015
  • Peter H David
    Peter H David, Mallorca

    Rosa could not have been more helpful and professional in providing us with what we needed accomplishing in very short space of time.


    We will certainly be in touch with her again the next time we need legal service.


    Oct 30, 2015
  • John Fitzpatrick
    John Fitzpatrick, UK

    Outstanding advice and service Jose was polite courteous and responsive and very sensitive in dealing with my fathers complex bereavement case.


    Jun 29, 2015
  • Neil Coates
    Neil Coates, Mallorca

    Our lawyer listened attentively to what we wanted, was pleasant and efficient. There were no linguistic problems.


    Although I speak some Spanish, all our business was conducted in English.


    I was very satisfied with the service provided.


    Feb 13, 2015
  • James Charles
    James Charles, Denia

    Jose-Antonio was extremely helpful, couldn't have done more.


    In terms of responsiveness, understanding, value for money, ability to explain and provide appropriate legal solutions, I would give him top-marks on all.


    Jan 20, 2015
  • GT
    GT, Puente Don Manuel, Velez

    Overall very satisfied with the service. House purchase went through quickly and no hitches.


    Beatriz always answered calls and emails promptly when we had any questions. She arranged notary as near to our house as possible. Would definitely use this lawyer in the future.


    Nov 28, 2014
  • Susan Basham-Gamble
    Susan Basham-Gamble, Wokingham

    My lawyer was very helpful and professional giving a personalised service and nothing was too much trouble. All questions and queries were answered fully.


    Excellent value for money and good advice given throughout. Will definitely use his services again.


    Nov 09, 2014
  • Frank Balmer
    Frank Balmer, Teresa de Cofrentes

    Very satisfied. Our lawyer was extremely helpful and had more or less fluent English.


    He was very friendly, explained everything we needed to know. We couldn’t have asked for better service.


    Oct 31, 2014
  • NW
    NW, London

    My lawyer was extremely helpful, couldn't have done more. I was very satisfied with the service provided.


    His English was of a sufficient level and I found him to be personable and professional.


    Oct 28, 2014
  • AS
    AS, Brussels

    My lawyer spoke English more or less fluently and was very helpful.


    He responded quickly to my request, understood the issues concerned and provided understandable and useful advice. A clearer pricing structure would have been helpful.


    However, I was satisfied with the service and would definitely use this lawyer again.


    Oct 23, 2014
  • Evelyn Lindsay
    Evelyn Lindsay, Aberdeen

    As I am elderly and do not speak Spanish I found the service I received was excellent, everything explained in easy, understandable language and Rosa’s English was fantastic.


    Also the cost was very reasonable as I am only on a state pension. In the future if I need any legal advice I will contact her again.


    Sep 15, 2014
  • Robert Short & Lenka
    Robert Short & Lenka, Benidorm

    The lawyer did an excellent job and helped us through everything we had to do and advised what would be best for us.


    Service was very good and the price was also resonable. We would certainly use him again.


    All processes he managed to organise in short time, which was helpful. Thank you.


    May 31, 2014
  • Glynis Stanley
    Glynis Stanley, Dublin

    I appreciated the in-depth information, time and willingness to explore all angles to help what was a difficult situation.


    As I had previously had very unsatisfactory dealings legally in Spain I left my appointment feeling that I had found a Practice that was honourable and trustworthy....very happy to recommend.


    Feb 12, 2014
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