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How to avoid problems with a family member’s Spanish bank account if they die

How to avoid problems with a family member's Spanish bank account if they die
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What happens to a person's bank account in Spain when they die? Here are all the steps you need to follow to avoid potential problems with Spanish banks when closing a deceased person's accounts and how it's linked to inheritance laws.

When a family member passes away, not only do we have to face the grief and pain of the loss, but we’ll most likely be confronted with a pile of paperwork to sort out, and a big part of this is dealing with money and bank accounts.

However, there are ways to sidestep issues and extra fees that could arise as well as a correct modus operandi to follow.

  • If possible, make preparations before the person’s death

It’s important to be aware of how many accounts the person has before their death, so you know how many banks you will have to deal with. However, if you’re not sure of the amount of accounts they have at the time of death, you can go to the Agencia Tributaria (Spanish Tax Agency) office, with proof that you are the inheritor, who will be able to tell you the accounts in their name.

One option that can make things easier is to add yourself as a co-owner of the bank account before their death, which will give you access to the account before the bank blocks it. 

However, this isn’t always a good idea. Some may want to take money out of the account before the person’s death to avoid paying inheritance tax. But this isn’t very effective, since these movements will appear on the bank account’s balance and will eventually be notified to Hacienda (Tax Office).

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  • Notify the bank of the person’s death

When a person dies, it’s up to the inheritors to notify the bank of their death, so they can then interrupt any transactions and cancel any payments.

It’s important to do this as soon as possible to avoid any bills or commissions being charged.

The inheritors will have to present the bank with a certificado de defunción (death certificate), registro de actos de última voluntad, and a copy of the will. If there is no will, then they will need a copy of the declaration of heirs.

As soon as the inheritors notify the bank, the most common procedure is for the banks to block the part of the money in the account that belongs to the inheritance. This means that the money will not be used to pay for any outstanding bills or any “operations ordered during the life of the account holder for the maintenance of the inheritance”, as indicated by the Bank of Spain.

In most cases, 100% of the money in the bank account is part of the inheritance.

The bank is obliged to maintain the account for 20 years until someone claims the money on it. If nobody claims it, the money will go to the state.

  • Check the status of the bank accounts

You can ask the bank for the account balance before and after the time of death. This can only be handed out to the inheritors, so you’ll have to provide proof of this.

  • Sign the required paperwork and pay inheritance tax

You won’t be able to gain access to the bank account until an acceptance of the inheritance has been signed, and the inheritance tax has been paid. After this, you’ll be able to access the money from the account, whether it’s in cash, with a bank transfer or a cheque.

READ ALSO: Five things you need to know about inheritance tax in Spain

Are these bank services free?

Some banks will want to charge a commission for managing these accounts. However, you should be careful about paying any extra charges since the bank is required to provide the majority of services, such as providing a balance certificate, for free.

The bank is obliged to report the deceased person’s financial situation. They should not charge for a certificate and must give a copy to any hair who requests it.

The same goes for the information about the bank account’s balance, and the bank cannot make you open an account with them and charge you a commission for it.

However, the bank is allowed to charge for a balance of the account if it dates from or over a year ago. But must inform of the cost first.

If you are worried that a bank is requesting unreasonable fees, you should check with the customer service department.


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