Estate planning in Portugal may not be as complex as in some European countries, but if you live in Portugal or have Portuguese assets you still need to review and adjust your succession arrangements to suit the local regime. Ensure your estate will be distributed according to your wishes and as tax-efficiently as possible.
Start your estate planning review by getting to know some key features of the Portuguese system and how it might affect you and your family.
1. Portugal’s succession law imposes ‘forced heirship’ The first step in estate planning, whether for Portugal or anywhere, is deciding who to leave your assets to and in what amounts.
Portugal, however, imposes restrictions on how freely you can distribute your wealth. If you are a Portuguese resident, the succession law determines that a fixed portion of your estate will automatically pass to your direct family (according to the state’s definition of family). This applies to your worldwide assets, with the exception of non-Portuguese real estate.
As a result, your spouse, children (biological and adopted), and direct ascendants (parents and grandparents) could get a minimum of half your estate, regardless of whether that’s your intention.
However, it’s possible to ensure your wishes are fulfilled by establishing specific arrangements to override this rule.
2. You can choose whether UK or Portuguese law applies to your estate
Since the EU succession regulation ‘Brussels IV’ came into force in 2015, the succession law of your country of residence will apply by default on your death.
Foreign nationals, however, can elect for the succession law of their country of nationality to apply instead – therefore overriding Portuguese forced heirship. You must expressly state this in your will or similar legal document, your family cannot opt for this after your death.
What about Brexit? Although it is an EU regulation, your eligibility to apply Brussels IV has not changed since the UK left the EU. It applies to anyone who is resident and/or owns assets within participating countries in the bloc, regardless of EU nationality.
Note that Brussels IV only affects succession law – you cannot choose which country has taxing rights to your estate. That said, applying Brussels IV is complex and could have unwelcome tax implications, so explore all the available options to establish what would work best for you and your heirs.
3. Family status determines who pays Portuguese inheritance tax
Another key element of estate planning is understanding and reducing succession taxes. Portugal doesn’t impose an ‘inheritance tax’ as we know it, but does apply a 10% ‘stamp duty’ when assets are passed on death or as a lifetime gift.
There are two key rules/exemptions:
Spouses, descendants (children, grandchildren), and ascendants (parents) are exempt from this tax.
The tax only applies to Portuguese assets – mostly real estate – regardless of where the donor or beneficiary is resident. Assets in the UK and elsewhere are exempt.
Note that stepchildren do not count as direct family and so will pay this tax (unless legally adopted). Likewise, partners who are neither married nor in a civil partnership could also be liable, though if you inform the Portuguese authorities after two years of living together you should be considered married for tax purposes.
4. Each recipient pays the inheritance tax
Unlike the UK, where tax is generally paid before an inheritance or gift changes hands, in Portugal tax is paid by the person receiving it.
Ownership of an asset cannot be transferred until the tax is paid – you cannot sell the asset to pay the tax. With stamp duty due within six months after death, some heirs may find it a difficult tax to pay, particularly on higher-value inheritances.
5. You could still face UK inheritance tax
Even after living in Portugal for years, UK nationals could still be considered UK domiciled by HM Revenue & Customs. This could result in UK inheritance taxes of 40% on your worldwide assets (above the thresholds). This is in addition to Portuguese stamp duty, but there are measures to avoid double taxation on the same asset.
Domicile law is extremely complex so take specialist advice to establish your position and plan accordingly.
Portugal estate planning to make life easier for your heirs
Ultimately, it’s important to understand how Portuguese succession rules apply to your personal objectives and unique situation, and how they affect your UK liability.
You should also consider how your legacy will be received by your heirs. An extra gift you can leave them is a straightforward and tax-efficient inheritance process. Take action now so your assets can be passed to them as quickly and easily as possible – with some investment structures, for example, the funds can be transferred to your nominated beneficiaries without the need for probate – and with as little tax as possible.
To keep updated on how you can invest in Portugal, or if you want to move there for business or lifestyle reasons, make sure you get advance notice of our upcoming Chamber events, by registering on our Moving to Portugal database at: