Last updated on 23/01/20

In a recent article where I explored five challenges of English-Spanish legal translation I spoke of the lack of conceptual equivalence as the main reason why legal translation is such a difficult job. Today, I would like to illustrate non-equivalence with eight Spanish concepts related to wills and succession, as this is an area of the law which greatly differs between English and Spanish.

Bear in mind that

  • ‘English’ refers to concepts, language, texts, etc. from England and Wales only, as opposed to other jurisdictions where they may exist or apply.
  • ‘Spanish’ refers to concepts, language, texts, etc. from Spain’s derecho común (subject to the Civil Code) only, and does not include the local laws of specific regions.

Sucesión forzosa

Unlike in England and Wales, in Spain’s derecho común there is no such thing as testamentary freedom. The Spanish Civil Code does not allow the free disposal of assets. It establishes a series of forced heirship (sucesión forzosa) rules according to which certain relatives qualify as forced heirs (herederos forzosos) and are entitled to a certain share of a deceased’s estate.


This term refers to the part – two thirds – of an estate which the testator cannot freely dispose of, and could be translated into English as ‘compulsory share’. One part of the legítima must be equally distributed amongst the forced heirs and is called legítima estricta.


The mejora or tercio de mejora refers to one third of an estate which can be unevenly distributed among some or all heirs, or allocated to only one of them. It could be translated as the ‘heirs’ additional discretionary share’. The combined compulsory (legítima estricta) and discretionary (mejora) share is called legítima larga.

Tercio de libre disposición

As mentioned above, a Spanish testator can only freely dispose of one third of their estate – what is called tercio de libre disposición (‘freely-disposable share’).


In Spain, the process of inheriting from a deceased involves four stages with no equivalent in English, and vocación is the second one. When a person’s death triggers the commencement of succession (apertura de la sucesión), those entitled to inherit are notified about it. This notification stage is called vocación.


Once notified, those entitled to inherit receive an offer of an inheritance, so they can then decide to accept it or to reject it. This offer stage is called delación.

Adición de la herencia

The fourth stage is the acquisition of an inheritance (adquisición de la herencia) and can only take place after the person entitled to inherit has accepted the inheritance. This acceptance step is called adición de la herencia or aceptación de la herencia. Upon accepting the inheritance, the person entitled to inherit formally becomes an heir (heredero).

Herencia yacente

This term refers to the ‘pending’ status of a deceased’s estate between commencement of succession and acceptance of the inheritance. During this interval, the estate may not have an owner, and is called herencia yacente or herencia vacante. It could be translated as ‘inheritance pending acceptance’.

Sources checked when writing this article:
Rebecca Jowers’ Thematic Lexicon of Spanish-English Legal Terminology
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The information included in this article is correct at the time of publication/last update. This article is for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk. ICR Translations will not be liable for any loss or damage arising from loss of data or profits as a result of, or in connection with, the use of this website.

Irene Corchado Resmella, a Spanish translator based in Edinburgh. English-Spanish sworn translator appointed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chartered Linguist and member of the CIOL. As a legal translator, I focus on Private Client law, specialising in Wills and Succession across three jurisdictions (England & Wales, Spain, and Scotland). Affiliate member of STEP. ICR Translations is registered with the ICO and has professional indemnity insurance.

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