It occurs to many
existing owners of Spanish properties that transferring their properties into
their children’s names could provide future inheritance tax savings.

Unfortunately, once the
Spanish property has been purchased and registered in the parents’ names, it is
often too late in economic terms, to achieve this.

For non- Spanish
nationals, the tax consequences of passing a Spanish property down to the
children need to be extremely carefully considered- both in Spain and also in
their own country.

In Spain, a lifetime
gift is subject to taxation at a level which is, in many cases, even higher
than the tax payable in the event of a parent’s death. As an alternative to a
gift, a sale/purchase between parents and children can result in a lower tax
liability; but the transaction has to be meticulously executed to avoid it
being treated by the Spanish Tax Authority as a gift in any event; and
therefore taxed at the higher rate.

There does exist in
certain circumstances, however, a further alternative option- the property
ownership structure can be collapsed, to reduce the number of co-owners in a
comparatively tax efficient manner. But this only enables transfers to other
co-owners. For example, a transfer can be made from one co-owning spouse to
another; or (if children are already registered co-owners of the property), in
favour of children.

So, for families to
avoid being ‘locked in’ to a Spanish property ownership structure which stores
up unnecessarily onerous tax liabilities in the long term, careful thought
needs to be given at the outset- when the property is first purchased- as to
the most efficient holding structure.

But (as an example of
the complexities which can arise) even for English buyers of Spanish
properties, it is not simply a case of ‘buying in the children’s name’. There
are also UK taxation ‘gift with reservation’ issues which need to be addressed.
If the parents pay for the Spanish property, then register it in the children’s
name but continue to use the property themselves, they then need to pay (and
carefully document) an appropriate rent or contribution towards outgoings.
Failing that, the gift of the money to buy the Spanish property could end up
not leaving the parents’ UK IHT estate.

In summary therefore,
when acting for clients on the acquisition of Spanish properties, it is
essential that the legal adviser provides full advice both under Spanish tax
law and also having regard to the buyer’s own national tax law, as to the most
efficient way to hold the Spanish property. This enables the buyer to secure
the best overall tax position; and to ‘keep their options open’ as regards future
tax and estate planning within the family.