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Firmalex > Inheritance in Spain > Differences between heirs and legatees

The differences between heirs and legatees are many, although sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between these two figures when a death occurs with an inheritance.

What is an heir

An heir is a person who has been designated to replace the deceased in ownership of the rights, assets and obligations, that is, he is the one who will receive the inheritance after the death of the deceased.

The heirs are universal title successors, which means that they receive both the assets and the debts of which the deceased was the owner. Despite this, there is a way to avoid having to face debts and that is to accept the inheritance for the benefit of inventory. With this form of acceptance, the debts are deducted and then the excess assets are distributed, so the ownership of the obligations is not transmitted to the heirs.

An heir to universal title can be a single person, then it would be a sole heir, or each of the people who receive an inheritance.

Types of heirs

In Spain, the figure of inheritance is somewhat complex and the different types of succession are regulated in the Civil Code.

There are different types of heirs:

  • Forced or legitimate heirs. This type of heirs are those who must receive by law a part of the inheritance, which is called legitimate. This means that the law reserves a part of the hereditary assets to this type of heirs. We find three types of forced heirs:
    • Decendents.
    • ascendants.
    • Spouse.
  • Voluntary heirs. In this typology we find those to whom the part of the assets that have not been reserved by law to forced heirs can be left in a will. Any person can be named voluntary heir, it is not necessary that there is any type of relationship with the deceased.

What is a legatee

A legatee is a person who receives a specific asset or right from the inheritance of a deceased. This means that when a deceased leaves a legacy to a person, he is leaving one or more specific assets.

The legatee has the following characteristics:

  • It only happens to the deceased in the assets or rights that he has decided and not in all of them.
  • The legatee does not have rights generated by the regulations, he can only receive assets by the will of the deceased established in his will.
  • The debts and charges that are included in the inheritance are not attributed to the legatee unless it is completely distributed in legacies.

Differences between heirs and legatees

Although both heirs and legatees receive assets from an inheritance and share certain common characteristics, there are important differences between these two figures:

  • Universality. The heirs receive all the assets and debts of the deceased and the legatees a specific asset established in the will.
  • Designation. In order for a legatee to exist, there must be a will where he is named and the assets he will receive are established. On the other hand, the heirs may exist whether there is a will or not, since the law establishes a part of the inheritance for forced heirs, which must always be respected.
  • Responsibility. The heirs have to answer for the debts included in the inheritance, unless the acceptance for the benefit of inventory. On the other hand, the legatees are not responsible for those obligations. However, the payment of the legacies depends on the payment of the legitimate inheritance to the forced heirs.
  • Possession of assets and rights. The legatee acquires his legacy from the moment of death automatically and the heirs must accept and divide the inheritance.
  • Acceptance or waiver of the inheritance or legacy. Both heirs and legatees may accept or reject the entire inheritance or legacy. However, the heir may not renounce a part and the legatee may reject a legacy and accept another as long as both are equal, onerous or free.
  • Effects of the rejection of the inheritance. If an heir renounces the inheritance, his share will pass to the legitimate heirs who have accepted. On the other hand, the legatee who rejects his legacy will cause that legacy to become part of the hereditary estate.
  • Delivery of goods. The legatee receives the legacy from the heirs or, failing that, from the executor. On the other hand, the heir does not need authorization for it.
  • Inheritance Tax. Both heirs and legatees are obliged to pay this tax in the corresponding proportion.

The differences between heirs and legatees are mostly included in the Civil Code of Spain, where everything related to inheritance is regulated. The heir receives all the assets and rights and also the debts, he does not need a will to exist and to possess the assets he must accept the inheritance, although he can reject it completely. The legatee only receives the assets and rights that the deceased establishes in the will and not the debts, he does not need to accept to acquire the assets, although he can reject them, and all the assets will be delivered to him by the heirs or executor.

Further information

This article is part of our service Inheritance in Spain. Visit this section where you will find all the useful information on this topic, including a complete guide on Inheritance in Spain with a non-resident, expat or foreigner.

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