Forced heirship: home and away

We all know that making a will is a good idea, a very good idea. In fact, it’s such a good idea that you really shouldn’t delay any further if you don’t have one. 

Do you want the law to decide who should inherit your assets? If you don’t have a valid will, that is exactly what will happen and you may be surprised as to who gets what. We suspect you would prefer to choose who is to benefit from your estate yourself, we know we would. 

But hang on a minute, before you get too carried away deciding who’s going to get what and, most importantly, who’s going to get your treasured vinyl collection, one question – do you own any overseas property?

Why are we asking you that? It might seem like a trivial point but it’s an important one because it might affect the way your will is drafted. 

So if you are lucky enough to own a Spanish villa or a French ski chalet, please read on so that you can ensure your loved ones are well provided for (not to mention fixed up for holidays for the rest of time).

The best will in the world

Some countries (France, Germany, Spain, to name but a few) have restrictions on how property you own in that country can be left to your heirs, sometimes leaving little wiggle room for you to choose what you would like to happen. These restrictions are known as forced heirship rules because in effect they are forcing who inherits the property. To find out more read our section on forced heirship

The rules vary from country to country, but they tend to specify that a certain percentage of your assets must be passed in equal shares to particular members of your family. 

In Germany, for example, your spouse or civil partner, children/grandchildren and parents are all entitled to a compulsory share of your property. In Spain, your children are entitled to inherit two-thirds of your estate, although rules vary between regions. In Brazil, there are forced heirship rules over half of your property. And so it goes on…

It’s just not British

Remember we are only talking about foreign property here. So if you only have property in England and Wales, don’t get worried that you are going to be forced to leave some of it to relatives that you suffer once a year at Christmas but have no intention of mentioning in your will.

There isn’t a forced heirship regime in England and Wales, and so you are free to decide who gets what out of assets based there. But be careful about excluding people who are dependent on you, as they can make a claim against your estate after you die. 

What next?

If you do own any foreign property, it’s essential that you get specialist advice when you make your will. Any will you write that goes against the forced heirship rules in the country concerned will be invalid and may fail, in whole or in part. To avoid having a will that conflicts with the laws of another country, you may need a co-ordinated approach to your estate planning; maybe even separate wills to deal with property in each country.

Whether you own foreign property or not, the most important thing is that you have a valid will in place. Are we beginning to sound like a stuck record yet? Hopefully not one from your treasured collection, which, by the way, doesn’t need to be sorted alphabetically right now. Spend the time making a will or getting advice on writing a will instead…