Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory with a mixed legal tradition by virtue of its history (i.e., first by being a Spanish colony and subsequently by being a U.S. colony). It was not until a couple of decades ago that Puerto Rico became the center of attention in the eyes of the general public in the U.S. mainland, even though power over the island had been conceded to the U.S. by Spain since 1898 via the Treaty of Paris. Puerto Rico has a Civil Code, with a long Spanish history, where laws are codified, including but not limited to rights and obligations regarding Real Property. The Civil Code was recently revised and updated (with an effective of November 28, 2020) and with those revisions came many changes, including, but not limited to, both property and succession law.
We have discussed in previous blogs how important is to plan your estate. You should start planning early since there are many complexities and important matters that will affect how your property, and even your day-to-day life in the event of incapacitation, will be carried forward. Estate planning is of outmost importance as well if you have property in multiple jurisdictions. Do you have property in Puerto Rico? Do you intend to invest in the island? Do you have immediate family members domiciled in Puerto Rico?
As a first step you should know that property in Puerto Rico is governed by the laws of Puerto Rico (as a general rule, real property is governed by the laws of the place the property sits) and not, for example, the laws of the state where a decedent was domiciled at the time of death. Real Property rights and obligations are codified in the Third Book of the new updated Civil Code and some important changes include, but are not limited to, topics related to: (1) possession; (2) liens and encumbrances; (3) acquisition of real property; (4) common ownership; (5) easements and servitudes; (6) usufruct; (7) surface rights; (8) real property rights as collateral; and (9) preferential acquisition rights.
On the other hand, in regards to Succession Law, the changes are quite substantive and include, but are not limited to, topics related to: (1) the acceptance of an inheritance; (2) the limits on the responsibilities of the one who inherits; (3) changes to the law when a person dies without a will; (4) distribution of the estate; (5) wills and its’ formalities; (6) donations; (7) rights of the surviving spouses; (8) among others.
Even though Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S., you should always keep in mind that laws may vary, not only from the mainland to the island, but also between every single state, as well as other territories including other islands in the Caribbean and other jurisdictions subject to the U.S. Therefore, if you have property in the island of Puerto Rico, are considering investing in real estate, have family living on the island, etc., you should always consult a local attorney for guidance on how to navigate the legal system.
Please note that this blog should be read for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact our office.
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