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Mastering the Complexities of Succession Law in Portugal

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Mastering the Complexities of Succession Law in Portugal

by | Monday, 20 May 2024 | Immigration, Other, Personal Income Tax

Mastering the Complexities of Succession Law in Portugal

Navigating the complexities of Portuguese inheritance law presents a formidable challenge for many, yet understanding it is essential for anyone dealing with the transfer of assets upon death in Portugal. This legal framework outlines the distribution of an estate among descendants and other heirs and sets forth the rights and obligations that come with inheritance. The statute is intricate, reflecting the country’s commitment to protecting familial bonds while ensuring a fair allocation of an individual’s legacy. Its significance cannot be overstated, as it affects both residents and foreigners with assets in Portugal, making a comprehensive grasp of its provisions vital for effective estate planning and succession execution.

This article endeavours to demystify Portuguese inheritance law, offering a clear insight into legislation governing succession, the types of succession recognized in Portugal, and the intricacies of heirship and quotas. Furthermore, it will explore the procedures and taxes associated with inheritance, providing a thorough understanding of navigating these legal waters confidently. By laying out a detailed roadmap of what heirs and descendants can expect in terms of legal processes and obligations, including the drafting of a will, this discussion aims to equip individuals with the knowledge to manage their inheritance affairs with precision and legal foresight, ensuring a smooth transition of assets under their wishes.

Legislation Governing Succession

Who is Affected by Portuguese Succession Law?

Portuguese inheritance law encompasses residents and non-residents who own assets within the country. For habitual residents, regardless of nationality, the law mandates that Portuguese legal standards govern their estate. This includes properties and financial assets located both in Portugal and abroad. Non-Portuguese, however, often believe they must comply strictly with Portuguese regulations concerning inheritance, including the concept of “forced heirs.” Still, they can opt to apply the law of their nationality if it permits more freedom in asset disposition.

Does Portuguese Law Apply to Foreign Residents?

Foreign residents in Portugal are subject to local succession laws, which may differ significantly from those in their home countries. For instance, if a foreign resident has not made a will, Portuguese law will dictate the distribution of their assets upon death. However, if a will is in place that explicitly states the application of the individual’s national law, Portuguese courts will generally honour such declarations. This legal flexibility is crucial for foreign residents to understand, as it allows them to plan their estate according to personal wishes rather than being bound by local inheritance rules.

Types of Succession in Portugal

Legal Succession

Portuguese inheritance law delineates two primary types of succession: legal and voluntary. Legal succession occurs without a will, with the Civil Code specifying the distribution of assets among heirs. If an individual dies without a will, their estate is automatically divided among their legitimate heirs, which include children, spouses, and parents.

Voluntary Succession

Contrastingly, voluntary succession allows individuals to dictate the distribution of their assets through a will or contract. This method provides the flexibility to allocate assets according to personal wishes rather than strictly adhering to legal succession’s statutory mandates. It is essential for those who wish to specify different terms for their estate’s distribution to formalize their intentions in a will, which must be notarized to ensure legality.

Certification of Heirs

In cases where there is no will, a certification of heirs becomes necessary to determine and document the rightful heirs to an estate legally. This process typically involves the oldest heir and requires registration at the National Registry or the Inheritance Desk. The certification is crucial for formally transferring the deceased’s assets to the identified heirs.

Heirship and Quotas

Legitimate Heirs

In Portuguese inheritance law, the determination of heirs follows a strict order, prioritizing the spouse and children as primary heirs. If no children are present, the inheritance shifts to the parents and, in their absence, to siblings and distant relatives. Ultimately, the estate defaults to the State if no legitimate heirs are identified.

Available and Unavailable Quotas

Available and unavailable quotas govern the division of assets in Portugal. The available quota allows the testator to distribute one-third of the estate through a will freely. The remaining two-thirds, known as the unavailable quota, must be allocated among the spouse, children, and forebears according to the strict rules of Portuguese inheritance law, ensuring that these close relatives receive their rightful share.

Disinheriting Certain Heirs

Portuguese law restricts the complete disinheritance of children and spouses, emphasizing family protection. However, specific disinheritance is permissible under circumstances of unworthy behaviour, although such decisions can be contested in court. This highlights the balance between personal testamentary freedom and the protective measures enshrined in Portuguese inheritance laws.

Taxes and Procedures pertaining Succession Law in Portugal

Tax Implications and Exemptions

  1. Stamp Duty on Inheritance: In Portugal, inheritance tax has been replaced by a stamp duty known as Imposto do Selo, levied at a flat rate of 10% on Portuguese assets.
  2. Exemptions for Close Relatives: Spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents are exempt from this tax, ensuring that direct descendants and ascendants do not bear the financial burden of inheritance tax.
  3. Tax-Free Inheritances: Certain types of goods, including stock dividends, personal goods, social security allowances, and life insurance credits, are exempt from taxation, reducing the overall tax liability for heirs.

Steps to Follow After Death

  1. Notification to Treasury: Families must inform the treasury of a death within three days, providing necessary documents such as a death certificate and identification documents of both the deceased and the heirs.
  2. Payment of Inheritance Taxes: Heirs have a three-month window from death to settle any inheritance taxes due. Failure to meet this deadline can result in fines and the accrual of daily interest.

Division of Assets

  1. Asset Registration: For an inherited property to be officially recognized as part of an estate, it must be registered with the local land registry office, Portal do Cidadão.
  2. Handling Outstanding Debts: If the deceased had outstanding debts, these are typically settled from the estate before the distribution of assets. This process ensures that heirs are not unduly burdened by debts exceeding the value of the inherited assets.
  3. Legal Resolution of Asset Division: In cases where heirs cannot agree on the division of assets, the matter may need to be resolved legally, either at the registry or through court proceedings.

This structured approach to handling taxes and procedures following a death in Portugal helps ensure that the process is managed efficiently and complies with local laws, providing clarity and support for the heirs during a challenging time.


Mastering the complexities of Portuguese succession law is critical for anyone navigating the transfer of assets after death in Portugal. This article has delved into the essential aspects of inheritance law, including legal frameworks, types of succession, and the roles of heirs, offering a detailed exploration of the intricacies involved. This comprehensive overview underscores the importance of understanding legal obligations and rights, positioning individuals to make informed decisions that align with their wishes and ensure a smooth transition of their legacy.

The implications of this discussion extend beyond the immediate realm of estate planning, highlighting broader considerations of familial bonds and the protection of personal wishes within the legal system. As we have seen, while Portuguese law places significant emphasis on safeguarding familial rights, it also offers avenues for personal discretion through voluntary succession. This balance between statutory mandates and individual freedom underscores the significance of thorough planning and legal advice in navigating Portugal’s inheritance laws, ensuring that one’s legacy is preserved and transferred according to tone’sintentions.


1. What does succession law in Portugal entail regarding legal heirs?
In Portugal, succession laws ensure that legal heirs, including the spouse, children, and parents of the deceased, are entitled to a portion of the estate. If the deceased has no legal heirs, the estate is transferred to their siblings.

2. What is the typical duration for probate processes in Portugal?
Portugal’s Probate generally takes 5 to 10 months to obtain the Grant of Probate/Representation. Administering the estate can take around 10 to 14 months, but this period may extend if the estate includes property that needs to be sold.

3. What are the specifics of the inheritance tax in Portugal for 2024?
In 2024, Portugal imposed a stamp duty, which functions similarly to an inheritance tax, at a fixed rate of 10%. This tax applies only to Portuguese property and assets inherited or gifted outside the direct family, making it relatively favourable to other countries.

4. Is there an inheritance tax in Portugal?
Portugal does not have a traditional inheritance tax; however, a 10% stamp duty is levied on assets transferred upon death or given as a lifetime gift. This tax does not apply to spouses, descendants (children, grandchildren), and ascendants (parents) who are exempt.

Remember, this article provides a general overview of the succession law in Portugal. For more detailed information or to obtain it, we recommend seeking the expertise of our team at MCS, who are here to support you.

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