What happens when a property is left without heirs?

In Spain, around a hundred properties without heirs are left without being awarded each year. In fact, 40% of Spanish citizens die without leaving a will, according to statistics from the General Council of Notaries. But how is it managed and who will be responsible for these estates?  Find out the details now.

What happens to real estate without heirs?

Real estate properties, jewellery or money in bank accounts become assets without heirs when:

There is no legal will (ab intestato).

There is no claim of heirs (due to absence or refusal). 

If these situations are ascertained, then the Civil Code will be responsible for establishing the trajectory of the inheritance. In this same regulation the following is established for succession:

  • Children and descendants.
  • Parents and descendants.
  • Spouse 
  • Collateral relatives.

If for any reason this order is not complied with, the Public Administration will be the legal heir; that is to say, the State or the Autonomous Community. This is stipulated in article 956 of the aforementioned law. 

patrimonio sin herederos

Notices and search for missing heirs 

Sometimes there are heirs, but the Public Administration is unable to contact them. In these cases, the legal mechanism of the General Directorate of Patrimony intervenes, which proposes:

“If any person confirms the existence of relatives to whom the inheritance concerns, this will be compensated by the Administration. Such an allowance is 10% of the value of the assets after deduction of debts and expenses”.

On the other hand, notice of properties without heirs is given in the Official State Gazette (BOE). Although the process is not simple, in more than 90% of the cases successors are found. 

Valid administration time 

The law establishes a period of one year to manage and resolve the procedures corresponding to the inheritance. However, if the deadline is exceeded and two years have passed since the notice was published in the BOE and DOGC, the investigation must be archived.

It is also worth mentioning that these intestate estates can be considered abandoned when no management is carried out on them after 20 years.

How does the State manage the assets?

In the absence of proven successors and in accordance with the law, the General Directorate of Patrimony, which is part of the Ministry of Finance, must:

  • Auction the assets at a price lower than the real value of the property.
  • Allocate a percentage of the inheritance to social institutions or charities. 

There are exceptions in autonomous communities such as Galicia, Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia, which use their own regulations. For example, in Catalonia, notice of these properties is given in the Official Gazette of the Generalitat de Catalunya (DOGC) and not in the BOE (Official State Gazette).

madre e hijas abrazadas

The advantages of leaving a will

It is possible to avoid the processing of properties without heirs by going to the notary and leaving signed inheritance documents. However, there are situations in which the lack of a will complicates matters, increasing the emotional burden on loved ones, if there are any. 

Such is the case for couples who are not legally married. If one partner dies, the widower does not have access to the deceased’s possessions without such a document.

When there are no direct heirs, people can distribute their assets to whomever they wish, even if they are not part of the deceased’s family unit. This is what, for the common good, should be considered.


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