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Reader question: What are the rules on inheriting property in France?

Reader question: What are the rules on inheriting property in France?
Some of the files from the dispute over musician Johnny Hallyday's estate. Photo: Martin Bureau | AFP
French inheritance laws have several restrictions and quirks which can come as a bit of a surprise to foreigners, so if you are intending to make a Will in France, here's what you need to know.

Whether you live in France or own assets such as property here, you need to decide whether to have your Will administered under French law or the law of your home country. To find out how to make sure any previous Wills are still valid in France, click here

If you make a Will in France it is always advisable to get legal advice from a notaire or avocat, but here are some of the main points to be aware of.

Children

Much depends on whether you have any children. Under French law, children are guaranteed a share of the estate. They cannot be disinherited (even if you are estranged) and there is a minimum share of your estate that you must leave them.

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Children are héritiers réservataires, who cannot be cut out of the Will and this is strict – French rocker Johnny Hallyday’s heirs were involved in a lengthy legal battle when he attempted to bypass his children in favour of his latest wife, and that’s despite the fact he lived in the USA for the last 20 years of his life.

The share they receive depends on the number of children. One child is entitled to half their deceased parent’s estate. Two children share two-thirds, and three or more share three-quarters. The rest of the estate can be passed on as you see fit.

The rules for stepchildren are more complicated. It is advisable, as it is in all situations, to discuss your personal situation with your notaire or legal expert.

As mentioned above, foreign nationals in France have the option of having their estate managed under the laws of their country of birth, so if you really don’t want your kids to inherit, you would need to opt for this.

Spouse or partner

You are not legally obliged to leave anything to your husband, wife or registered partner, but of course many people will want to ensure that their loved one is taken care of financial. 

And if you’re not multi-millionaire rock star, then being obliged to leave up to three quarters of everything to the children can leave the surviving spouse or partner with very little.

Since property represents the bulk of most people’s assets, the family home can also end up divided between several owners.

This does not mean a surviving spouse is left homeless.

As well as being able to inherit at least part of the estate, giving them a say in any property sales, for example, they also have the right to remain in the family home – as long as it is the main residence – for the remainder of their lifetime.

They have to formally declare their intention to do so within a year of their spouse’s death and just in case people fall out in the aftermath of a death, it is wise to make a notaire aware of this declaration.

For more answers to frequently asked questions about Wills and inheritance in France click here

The Notaires de France website also offers useful advice in English, while a list of English-speaking notaires in France is available here.


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