The Spanish will registry - a bureaucratic success

Inheritance Wed, 29 Jan 2014
The Spanish will registry - a bureaucratic success

When you first buy a Spanish property with your partner, husband, wife or even friend, you have no idea what might happen in the future. In the excitement of making the purchase your thoughts are to the here and now and not the ‘what might be’.

Unfortunately the unthinkable does sometimes happen. People split up, fall out, meet someone else. The co-owner you are so enraptured with in 2014 could become the bane of your life in a few years time. People become estranged for many different reasons and sadly, they also die. When this happens, there can be confusion about who might inherit a property in Spain

It’s not often that we celebrate Spanish bureaucracy, but this is one time when it really does come into its own. All Spanish wills are registered in the will registry in Madrid (Registro Central de Ultimas Voluntades). This can appear at first to be another case of bureaucracy gone mad. In fact, it is really beneficial. Perhaps it’s best if we give you an example.

Mr and Mrs. Grant were a married couple who decided to move to Spain on their retirement. After ten happy years, sadly Mr Grant died leaving his share of the house and assets to his wife. Distraught at his death, Mrs Grant no longer wanted to continue living in Spain in the house they had shared so happily together. She decided to return to the UK and moved in with her cousin. However, her health soon deteriorated and not long after her husband, Mrs Grant died too.

Before she died, Mrs Grant had made a will in the UK. The new will left all her belongings to her cousin, in gratitude for the care she had given her following her husband’s death. However, it gradually transpired that the will Mrs Grant had made in the UK clearly stated that it only covered her assets there, and did not cover those in Spain.

So who was now entitled to Mrs Grant’s Spanish house? Originally Mr. and Mrs. Grant had made ‘mirror’ wills in which they would each inherit the other half’s property and which also included Mr. Grant’s children by a previous marriage. However, it was thought that Mrs. Grant may have made a new will in Spain too following Mr. Grant’s death, leaving the property to her cousin.

In order to settle the confusion the family asked Ábaco to apply to the central will registry in Madrid. They provided a copy of the death certificate and waited for confirmation of whether a new will had been made or not.

The outcome was not a happy one for Mrs. Grant’s cousin who discovered that no new will had been made and that the original will, which included Mr. Grant’s children, was still valid.

It is an unfortunate train of events. Mrs. Grant had never been close to her husband’s children and since he had died their links had become even more fragile. It is probable that she would not have chosen to leave the property to them.

She may have been under the impression that her UK will would cover her Spanish assets too. Whatever the case, it would seem that the new inheritors have little intention of sorting out their inheritance just yet. Who knows whether the house in Spain will ever come to be as loved and cared for as it once was.

This shows just how important it is to make a will and keep it up-to-date if your circumstances change. An endorsement too of having a central will registry.   


Advised by our British solicitors my wife attempted to change her address and passport details listed in her Spanish will. Her Notario who drew up her will, or at least his staff, told us that the will could not be altered in any way. They informed her that her will details were stored in the Central Will Registry in Madrid but gave her no further details. Are changes to address and passport numbers not important. Our daughter who is named in the will has married and has a new surname, again dismissed by the Notario'staff. Does she have a duty to update such details?

Dear William
Yes, the Notary staff were correct. All Spanish wills are registered at a central registry in Madrid and no changes can be made after registration. To alter your wishes, such as bequeathing to different inheritors, these must  be registered by making a new will which completely cancels out the previous one. Changes to passport numbers, names, addresses etc. do not necessitate making a new will. When an inheritance takes place the Notary will identify the deceased and the inheritors by their old and new documentation, marriage certificate etc. Knowing that addresses can often change, these are not considered important for identification purposes.

My step mother remarried and moved to Spain. She and her husband made 'mirror wills' and the spanish property was left to me upon their deaths to pay towards the care for my step sister who needs 24 hour support.

I have now found out that a new will may have been made after the husband had died but I assumed a trust was set in place upon his death and the will could not be changed.

I will still have to care for and unsure of my position regarding the mirror wills.

Dear Garry
It depends on who your step-mother and her husband named as their first inheritor. You mention that they made "mirror wills" and although this is not a legal term we presume that in their individual wills they named each other as the first inheritor and you as the substitute.
If they would have died simultaneously you would have become the first inheritor. However, as one died before the other the remaining spouse became the first inheritor, in this case your step mother. She inherited her husband's assets and is at liberty to make a new will bequeathing what are now her assets to the inheritor of her choice. Trusts are rarely recognised under Spanish Law and so it is highly unlikely that one would be mentioned in a Spanish will.
Please note this information is based on a general assumption and without seeing the will we cannot comment more precisely.

I have been informed I have been left my friend villa in Spain. Can I write to the Central Will Registry in Spain to find out if this is correct. I know for a fact that there was a first Will which will be obsolete if true.
What information do I have to send if I can do this.

Dear Charles

The Central Wills Registry will only inform you of the date of the last will of the deceased and in which Notary it is held. You will then need to request an official copy of the will from the Notary but it will only be given if you are named in it as an inheritor. 

My father died in Tenerife, he was of british nationality and him and my mother were diveorced. He died in 2007 and left behind a house in Tenerife, unfortunately he left no will as his death was unexpected. I think I am right in saying under spanish law this means that my brother and I inhertit his estate but I still need a certificate from the central will registry in Madrid but am un aware of how to do this.
How do I contact the Registry and what information do I need to send

Dear Emelie

If your father died leaving no will at all in any country then it will be considered under British succession law and Spanish succession law that his Spanish estate should pass equally to his children. To establish if he did or did not sign a will in Spain you will need to obtain a certificate from the Central Wills Registry in Madrid. To do this you will need to present an original death certificate or notarised copy of his death certificate. 

My ex. Husband died in spain in 2006. He leaves one daughter. I would like to know if I can find out if he left a will in spain. And if so can I obtain a copy. We were informed of his death by his sister and aside from that have no further information. He lived in the Lazenia, Alicante area. I dont know if he rented or owned the property.

Hi Christine

Thanks for your query. Anyone can apply for a Last Will certificate known as Certificado de Actos de Última Voluntad or AUV in Spain. An application can be presented anytime after 15 days have passed after the day of death in Madrid at the Central Wills Registry or the nearest office of the Ministry of Justice or at the local Civil Registry Office. There is a fee to pay when presenting the application form. 

The document required is an original death certificate or a notarised copy of a death certificate. If it is a non-Spanish death certificate it must bear the seal of the Apostile of the Hague and be translated by an official translator. 

The AUV is issued within 15 days. If there is no will registered in Spain from the deceased the certificate will be negative. If there is a will the certificate will state the date and at which Notary office the will was signed and is held at. The inheritors can then apply for an official copy of the will from the Notary. It will only be issued to the inheritors named in the will or their legal representatives. 

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