Spanish Inheritance Tax for Non-Residents (Part II)

Raymundo LarraĆ­n Nesbitt, March, 8. 2016

This is the second of a two-part series in which lawyer Raymond Nesbitt explains the process for inheriting assets in Spain as a non-resident, and provides an outline on Spain’s Inheritance Tax (IHT).

By Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt
Lawyer – Abogado
8th of March 2016

 

 

Introduction

The following article is my second part to my abridged article dealing with Spanish Inheritance Tax for Non-Residents (Part I) (IHT going forward). Because of the sheer length of the original article, I was forced to split my article into two parts. Not everyone is interested in this level of detail so it makes sense to remove content from my original article and create a second part with all the minutiae.

This second part deepens in the study of IHT focusing specifically on tax allowances and deductions; both at a national and regional level. Tax allowances are hands down the key to paying little to no Spanish Inheritance Tax for the majority of beneficiaries (including European non-residents).

Feel free to add inheritance tax-related queries below and I will do my best to address them. Please do NOT ask how much Spanish Inheritance Tax you stand to pay as the answer is not straightforward and often requires an elaborate study which escapes the purpose of this forum.

Value of Real Estate for Inheritance Tax Purposes

The Tax Office values inherited real estate according to the highest amount of the following three:

• Cadastral value of the property.
• Acquisition value of the property.
• Tax Office’s assessed fiscal property value.

The cadastral value is the assessed value local Tax Authorities give to a property. It is usually well below the market value (on average by 30% to 50% depending on when it was last revised). This rateable value is used as the taxable base to calculate a series of property-related taxes. You will find the cadastral value of a property in one of your local tax bills (i.e. IBI).

The acquisition value is the sales price of the property which is reflected in the Title deed (when it was bought). Under normal market conditions, real estate assets appreciate over time so this value should be below the current market price.

The Tax Office’s assessed fiscal value is attained by multiplying the cadastral value by a legal coefficient, which is updated every now and then, to bring it more in line with inflation.

Bottom line, all three values above are normally below the current market price; the price at which property actually sales in estate agencies. This translates in practice into paying less tax in real terms.

Testator’s Personal Debts

They are tax-deductible. They must be witnessed in a Notary Public deed or else in a private document (the latter is unadvisable for blatant reasons as it is very difficult to prove). Example: Mr. JC Denton acknowledges a debt of €10,000 by means of a Spanish Notary Public deed to a friend. This 10k can be deducted by Denton’s heirs offsetting it against their inheritance tax liability (they pay less tax).

Encumbered Property: Deductible Liens, Charges, Taxes

In my professional experience, as a conveyance lawyer, almost every property acquired by non-residents is mortgaged. The only exception is cash buyers, which are a frank minority.

The Tax Inheritance Act allows that charges, debts, taxes and mortgage liens against a Spanish property are deductible for tax purposes; it is only the free equity that is taxed. Examples:

Community of Owners outstanding fees.
Lender mortgages.
Lifetime loans.
Town hall taxes (i.e. IBI, rubbish collection).
• Regional taxes.
• State taxes.
• Social Security debts.

All the above are tax-deductible for the purpose of IHT.

Only this first measure vastly reduces a heir’s IHT liability.

So for example, on a property worth £300,000 with a £200,000 mortgage lien against it, only the free equity, the £100,000, would be taxable for inheritance purposes.

Deductible Expenses

Some expenses are tax-deductible such as: death-related medical fees, funeral and burial expenses (within reason).

Tax Categories

Giftees and inheritors are grouped into four categories for tax purposes. Depending on the relationship with the deceased, allowances are conceded. As a general rule, the closer the kinship, the more generous the allowance.

Group I: Natural and adopted children under 21.
Group II: Natural and adopted children over 21, spouse, registered civil partnerships, parents, adoptive parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Group III: Relatives in second and third degree: in-laws, brothers/sisters (siblings), nephews/nieces, aunts and uncles.
Group IV: Relatives in fourth degree, or without any relationship: a friend, common law partners.

State Allowances

 

Allowances are useful to reduce the taxable base (you pay less tax).

State allowances apply to both resident and non-residents.

Group I: there is an allowance available (between husband and wife, or direct line descendants and ascendants) which is a little under €16,000. A very far cry from the UK’s spouse exemption of over £300,000.
Group II: if an inheritor is a direct line descendant under the age of 21, there is an additional deduction of €3,990 for each year they are under 21. The total deduction is restricted to €47,858 per child or grandchild.
Group III: for more distant relatives the exemption is €7,933. There is no exemption for beneficiaries who are not related, including unmarried couples unless they can be registered.
Group IV: naught, nada.

A main home in Spain may be virtually exempt from Spanish succession tax provided the beneficiaries are either your spouse, parents or children and they continue to own the property for ten years from the date of death. ‘Main home’ is a legal term which implies you have lived in the dwelling for the previous three years. The exemption can also apply where the beneficiary is a more distant relative over the age of 65 and they have lived with you for at least two years before death.

Assuming that all the conditions are met, the value of the house can be reduced by 95% on calculating the tax base liable to succession tax, subject to a maximum reduction in value per inheritor of €122,606. This only applies to a principal private residence owned by a Spanish resident. To clarify: if you are non-resident, you cannot benefit from this allowance as, by definition, it must be your main home and therefore you must be resident in Spain.

Regarding life insurance covers, beneficiaries may deduct up to €9,195.

And last, not strictly a tax allowance, but always worth noting, is the often unfairly neglected art. 20.3 of the Inheritance Tax Act which states that if the same property is inherited twice, or more, within a time frame of ten years, the Spanish Inheritance Tax paid on the first transmission is fully deductible on the second, and subsequent, transmissions. Meaning almost no tax would be paid providing the second death is in the following ten years.

This is perhaps better understood with an example: husband and wife own a Spanish property jointly; they have two children. Husband passes away and bequeaths his 50% over to his surviving spouse. IHT has to be paid by his wife on the 50% she inherits from her late husband. If the wife should pass away within the next ten years, her inheritors (the children, presumably) do NOT have to pay Spanish inheritance tax on the 50% that belonged to their late father as the IHT that was paid by their mother is fully deductible.

Regional Tax Allowances

 

In addition to the above stingy state allowances, each of Spain’s’ 17 autonomous regions have ruled on their own tax allowances. It used to be the case until last year that only residents in Spain could benefit from these – which was an injustice I criticized in all my articles over the last decade. A landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ, going forward) of 3rd of September 2014 overturned this. Regional allowances now apply to both residents and non-residents alike (but must be resident in the E.U. or E.E.A.). As a recap:

EU/EEA-residents: (non-resident in Spain) may benefit from both state and regional allowances post ECJ’s ruling in equal footing to those who are resident in Spain.
Non-EU/EEA residents (rest of the world): there are no changes. State law still applies to them unabated. They do not benefit from regional allowances.

In a nutshell, the ECJ’s ruling put an end to (fiscal) discrimination between residents and non-residents in a wide array of matters; most notably on inheritance and gift taxation. As a consequence of this key European ruling, the Kingdom of Spain was forced to grant non-residents the same lenient regional tax allowances that residents already enjoyed on taxation matters. For more details on this matter, please read my in-depth article: Changes to Spain’s Inheritance and Gift Tax Law.

This change translates in practice into paying fewer taxes. So in addition to the niggardly state allowances (European) non-residents may now also benefit of the much more generous regional allowances which in not few instances almost suppress the IHT liability bringing that tax bill to zero (with the support of a lawyer, of course).

When one of the parties is non-tax resident in Spain (but resident in EU or EEA) the above mentioned changes will bear a dramatic impact on the beneficiary’s taxation; significantly decreasing or even suppressing the tax altogether providing the estate is located in one of the Autonomous Communities outlined in this article’s introduction with lavish allowances on inheritance and gift taxation. In other words, for clarity’s sake, a EU-resident beneficiary stands to pay less tax now under this new law as from the 1st of January 2015. Take careful legal advice as these tax allowances differ significantly from one region to the next, allowing for some very interesting tax planning.

I am not even going to attempt collating the full list of all available allowances throughout the 17 regions in Spain as it is much too convoluted, subject to change from one year to the next and would add considerably to the length of an already long article.

I will only be listing the allowances on the six most popular regions in Spain where English like to buy property in (typically coastal areas). There is no point in me listing the remaining eleven regions as they garner little to no attention from non-residents. The only reason I am doing this is because regional tax allowances are hands down the key to paying little to no Spanish inheritance tax for the majority of beneficiaries (including European non-residents).

1. Andalusia.
2. Balearic Islands.
3. Canary Islands.
4. Catalonia.
5. Murcia.
6. Valencian Community.

As mentioned in this article’s introduction, I have split the six regions into two tiers depending on how accommodating they are with IHT exemptions:

Tier 1: IHT tax-friendly. They improve significantly on state allowances as well as introducing their own unique exemptions to the point of almost suppressing inheritance tax. Prototype region is Madrid.
Tier 2: IHT regional exemptions are found wanting. Prototype region is Murcia.

I have considerably abridged the below allowances for reasons of space constraint (there are plenty more I do not list). The allowances I quote below are always per inheritor (unless specified otherwise). So if there are more than two beneficiaries, each of them benefit individually from them

1. Andalusia (Tier 2)

EDIT 8th September 2016: New legal changes have updated this section for the region of Andalusia. Please read the following: Inheritance Tax Novelties in Andalusia. FAQ on IHT.

– No IHT paid on the estate itself on compliance with the following three requirements, per inheritor:

• Inheritance taxable base (per inheritor) < €175,000.
• Heir is classified in Groups I & II.
• Heir’s pre-existing net wealth in Spain < €402,678.

To clarify, if you inherit as much as one euro cent over the quoted €175,000 (per inheritor) you pay inheritance on the full amount (the exemption does not apply).

– Main (family) home: 99.99% exemption on deaths occurred since the 1st January 2003, subject to a maximum reduction in value per inheritor of €122,606. Applies only to beneficiaries which were already living in the family home at the time of death. Only applies if beneficiaries do not sell the property within the next five years from the death:

• Surviving spouse
• Descendants (natural or adoptive children, grandchildren)
• Ascendants (parents, grandparents)
• Exemption also applies where the beneficiary is a more distant relative over the age of 65 and lived the previous two years with the deceased.

– Beneficiaries are disabled:

• Groups I & II: physical disability >33%: no IHT paid on taxable base < €250,000.
• Groups III & IV: physical disability >33 % and pre-existing net wealth in Spain is <€402,678: no IHT paid on taxable base < €250,000.

– Further exemptions on acquiring family business, companies, company shares etc.

2. Balearic Islands (Tier 1)

– The following allowances improve upon the state ones:

Group I. Beneficiaries aged under 21 y.o.: €25,000. There is an additional deduction of €6,250 for each year they are under 21. The total deduction is restricted to €50,000 per child or grandchild.
Group II. Beneficiaries aged 21 y.o. or over, spouses or ascendants: €25,000.
Group III: €8,000.
Group IV: €1,000.

– Beneficiaries are disabled:

• Physical disability >33%, <65%: €48,000.
• Physical disability > 65 %: €300,000.
• Psychic disability > 33%: €300,000.

– Main home: up to €180,000 exemption per inheritor as long as they don’t sell the property within the next five years from the death. Applies to the following beneficiaries:

• Surviving spouse
• Descendants
• Ascendants
• Exemption also applies where the beneficiary is a more distant relative over the age of 65 and lived the previous two years with the deceased.

– Life insurance cover: exemption capped at €12,000.

– Further exemptions on acquiring family business, companies, company shares etc.

3. Canary Islands (Tier 1)

– The following exemptions improve upon the state allowances:

Group I. Beneficiaries aged:

•    <10 y.o. = 100% capped at €138,650.
•    >10 y.o.; <15 y.o.= 100% capped at €92,150.
•    > 15 y.o.; < 18 y.o.= 100% capped at €57,650.
•    > 18 y.o.; < 21 y.o. = 100% capped at €40,400.

Group II.

• Surviving spouse: €40,400.
• Natural or adoptive children: €23,125.
• Remainder of descendants: €18,500
• Ascendants or adoptive parents: €18,500.

Group III: €9,300.


Group IV: nil.

– Beneficiaries are disabled:

• Physical disability >33%; <65%: €72,000.
• Disability (physical or psychic) > 65 %: €400,000.

– Group II (i.e. surviving spouse) beneficiary is aged 75 years old or over: exemption of €125,000 (incompatible with the above disability allowances).

– Life insurance cover: 100% exemption capped at €23,150.

– Main home: 99% exemption capped at €200,000 pro rata per each inheritor. Applies to the following beneficiaries:

• Surviving spouse
• Descendants (natural or adoptive children, grandchildren)
• Ascendants (parents, grandparents)
• Exemption also applies where the beneficiary is a more distant relative over the age of 65 and lived the previous two years with the deceased.

– Further exemptions apply on acquiring family business, companies, company shares etc.

4. Catalonia (Tier 1)

– The following exemptions improve upon the state allowances:

Group I. Beneficiaries aged under 21 y.o.: €100,000. There is an additional deduction of €12,000 for each year they are under 21. The total deduction is restricted to €196,000 per child or grandchild.
Group II.

• Surviving spouse: €100,000.
• Natural or adoptive children: €100,000.
• Remainder of descendants: €50,000
• Ascendants or adoptive parents: €30,000.

Group III: €8,000.
Group IV: nil.

– Beneficiaries are disabled:

• Disability (physical or psychic) >33%; <64%: €275,000.
• Disability (physical or psychic) > 65 %: €650,000.

– Group II (i.e. surviving spouse) beneficiary is aged 75 years old or over: exemption of €275,000 (incompatible with the above disability allowances).

– Life insurance cover: 100% exemption capped at €25,000. Only applies if beneficiary is surviving spouse, descendants or ascendants.

– Further exemptions on acquiring family business, companies, company shares etc.

– Main home: 95% exemption capped at €500,000 of property value pro rata per inheritor, maximum exempt is capped at €180,000 per inheritor. Subject to the house not being sold within the next five years as from the death of the deceased. Applies to the following beneficiaries:

• Surviving spouse
• Descendants (natural or adoptive children, grandchildren)
• Ascendants (parents, grandparents)
• Exemption also applies where the beneficiary is a more distant relative over the age of 65 and lived the previous two years with the deceased.

– Further exemptions on acquiring family business, companies, company shares etc.

5. Murcia (Tier 2)

None worth mentioning!

Exemptions centred on acquiring family business, companies, company shares etc.

6. Valencian Community (Tier 1)

– Improvement on state allowances:

Group I. Beneficiaries aged under 21 y.o.: €100,000. There is an additional deduction of €8,000 for each year they are under 21. The total deduction is restricted to €156,000 per child or grandchild.
Group II.

• Surviving spouse: €100,000.
• Natural or adoptive children: €100,000.
• Remainder of descendants: €100,000
• Ascendants or adoptive parents: €100,000.

Group III: nil.
Group IV: nil.

– Beneficiaries are disabled (per inheritor):

• Disability (physical) >33%: €120,000.
• Disability (physical) >65 %: €240,000.
• Disability (psychic) >35%: €240,000.

– Main home: 95% exemption, capped at €150,000 per inheritor. Subject to the house not being sold within the next five years as from the death of the deceased. Applies to the following beneficiaries:

• Surviving spouse.
• Descendants (natural or adoptive children, grandchildren).
• Ascendants (parents, grandparents).
• Exemption also applies where the beneficiary is a more distant relative over the age of 65 and lived the previous two years with the deceased.

– Further exemptions on acquiring family business, companies, company shares etc.

Taxation Example

Mr. Geralt Rivia and wife Triss Merigold jointly own a summer holiday property in the Community of Valencia valued at €400,000. They have two children, aged 16 and 25. They have Spanish mirror wills leaving their assets to their two children (beneficiaries). The house has an outstanding mortgage of €180,000. All four live in England (tax domiciled in the UK), so they are non-residents for Spanish tax purposes. Mr. Rivia passes away.

He bequeaths his 50%, which amounts to €200,000, to his two children. First of all we must deduct half of the mortgage (€90,000). That leaves €110,000 split between the two children. Once we apply all the above listed deductions, allowances and exemptions the IHT liability is (European non-residents benefit from lenient regional allowances in addition to state allowances):

• Child aged 16: nil.
• Child aged 25: nil.

You may wonder, would the outcome have been the same if the mortgage was fully paid up? Answer is yes.

What about if both children were over 21 y.o.? Answer is still yes, the IHT bill for both would still be nil.

Regardless, even if no IHT is due, a Spanish lawyer must still be hired to file and lodge with the Tax Office Spanish Inheritance Tax so as not to be fined and change 50% of the property ownership over to the two children at the Land Registry.

The case is real. I have made up the names of the two parents. In real life they were duped into incorporating a UK Limited Company to “shield” 100% their two beneficiaries (the children) against Spain’s IHT. They paid £5,000 in legal fees to a UK-based company for the ‘privilege’. This is a clear case of being mis-sold a legal service. The truth is this couple did not need a UK Limited Company; they only needed to prepare two Spanish mirror wills, period.

Furthermore, from a Spanish perspective this structure would not be exempt from IHT. Moreover, I do not claim to be an expert in UK tax law, God forbid, but this scheme would see to assume that the UK’s IHT does not tax the change of ownership of shares in a UK Limited Company. A company that is not actually trading as it has no real activity; it is just a single property investment company.

Had the property been worth substantially more or had the property been located elsewhere in Spain, in what I call a ‘tier 2’ region, then indeed it may have been worth considering a holding company or else exploring other (legal) options to mitigate the IHT exposure of their two children.

Bottom line, corporate structures are a legal tool that may or may not be beneficial depending on each individual case – they are not a universal tax panacea to be sold to everyone. Request a tailored estimation of what your appointed beneficiaries stand to pay for IHT before you act rashly setting up companies or else taking on complex equity release schemes. More on these matters further below and also in my conclusion to this article.

I. Inheritance Rules

a) Deceased is non-tax resident.

If the deceased was resident in a Member State of the European Union or else in the European Economic Area (non-tax resident in Spain) the beneficiary will now benefit from:

• The regional tax allowances where the majority of the assets of the deceased are located in.
• If there are no assets in Spain, the rules of the Autonomous Community where the beneficiary lives apply.

b) Deceased is tax resident and beneficiary is non-tax resident.

If the deceased was resident in Spain and the beneficiary is resident in a Member State of the European Union or else in the European Economic Area (non-tax resident) he will benefit from:

• The regional tax allowances where the deceased lived.

II. Gift Rules

a) Immovable property located in Spain (i.e. real estate). If a non-tax resident is donated an immovable asset (located in Spain) he will now be entitled to the regional tax allowances of the Autonomous Community where it lies.
b) Immovable property located outside of Spain (i.e. real estate). If a tax resident is donated an immovable asset located in a Member State of the European Union or else in the European Economic Area, other than Spain, he will be entitled to the tax allowances of the Autonomous Community where he lives in Spain.
c) Movable property located in Spain (i.e. a painting). If a tax resident in a Member State of the European Union or else in the European Economic Area is gifted a movable asset located in Spain he is entitled to apply the tax allowances and gift rules of the Autonomous Community where that asset spent most of the days during the previous five years.

 

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin.

Founding Father of the United States. Exceptionally gifted scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, printer, postmaster and political theorist. Even politician in his spare time; nobody’s perfect.

 

Larraín Nesbitt Lawyers is a law firm specialized in inheritance, taxation, litigation and conveyancing. We will be very pleased to discuss your matter with you. Please contact us for a free initial consultation. You can contact us by e-mail at info@larrainnesbittabogados.com, by telephone on 951 894 675 or by completing our contact form.

 

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Please note the information provided in this article is of general interest only and is not to be construed or intended as substitute for professional legal advice. This article may be posted freely in websites or other social media so long as the author is duly credited. Plagiarizing, whether in whole or in part, this article without crediting the author may result in criminal prosecution. No delusional politician was harmed on writing this article. VOV.

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