SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

FAMILY

How to register a death and arrange a funeral in France

There’s a third certainty in life in France, after death and taxes - and that’s bureaucracy. 

Graves at a cemetery in Paris
There are strict rules around burial or cremation n France. Photo: Martin Bureau / AFP

No one wants to think about death while they’re enjoying the good life in France, but it’s important to understand what needs to be done – and when – in the event of a loved one dying in France.

Let’s start with what you can do before you die.

Burial or cremation

It’s a good idea to make it known whether you want a burial or cremation in France, or if you want your body repatriated for a service back home, so that anyone dealing with the formalities is aware of your wishes.

If you do want to be buried in France, it’s a good idea to reserve a plot, as it will make things a lot easier at a difficult time. Just keep the document that confirms you have done so in a safe place.

Funeral insurance

Funerals can cost anywhere between €3,000 and €5,000, so it can be a good option for older people to take out a funeral plan – they’re routinely offered by banks, insurers or funeral firms. It means funeral funding and organisation is automatically in place, and any family members flying into France, whose French may not be very strong, don’t have that issue to face. 

After a person dies, numerous administrative tasks are necessary in a short period of time.

The first 24 hours

If you’re with a family member, friend or relative when they die, you have 24 hours to report the death. 

If they die at home, contact their GP, or call 112 or 15. A doctor will come round and certify death and issue a medical certificate (certificat de décès / declaration de décès). If the person dies in a hospital, retirement home or other facility, it is their responsibility to report the death.

If the doctor believes the death was suspicious or by suicide, an inquiry is held. This is also standard if the death occurred in a public place. The responsibility for issuing the certificat de décès and burial permission in such cases falls to the public prosecutor (Procureur de la République) in the local high court (Tribunal de Grande Instance).

Registering the death

A relative, representative or undertaker then has to register the death at the local mairie (town hall) within 24 hours, unless the death takes place on a public holiday or at a weekend, when the admin offices at town halls are closed. 

Those who report the death need to take proof of their own ID, as well as proof of the deceased person’s identity (a carte nationale d’identité, carte de séjour, passport, marriage certificate or birth certificate) and the recently issued medical death certificate.

This should be enough for officials to issue a death certificate (acte de décès) – which includes information on where and when the death took place, not the cause of death. 

You can ask for several copies – they’re free and it’s a good idea to do so. These documents are needed to close the deceased’s bank or utility accounts. But, if you later find out you don’t have enough, don’t worry. More copies can be obtained online, in person or by post.

Organ donation

It may seem a bit crass to slip this point in here, but in general every adult in France is presumed to be an organ donor, unless they specifically opt out. 

This has been the case since the Loi Caillavet was passed in 1976, making everyone an organ donor except for those who have explicitly refused, as well as minors and those under someone else’s guardianship.

The rule, however, is different for foreign nationals who die in France. In such cases, the law of their home country takes priority.

In practice, doctors will consult with family members before harvesting any organs. Refusal must be in writing, and must confirm that the deceased had expressed their opposition to organ donation. 

Arranging the funeral

Once the death is registered, the mairie issues a burial permit (permis d’inhumer).

The deceased’s family usually have six days to arrange the service for a burial or a cremation, with allowances if there’s an open investigation or if the death happened on a weekend or public holiday, or if the person died abroad and wishes to be repatriated to France – in which case the time limit is six days of the arrival of the body in France.

Burial can’t take place within the first 24 hours after death.

If the deceased had indicated what type of ceremony they wanted, their wishes must be respected. If they didn’t specify, the decision has to be made by their closest relatives.

The funeral directors will help with these formalities. The mairie will have a list of local firms, and the website www.pompesfunebresdefrance.com has details of funeral directors in towns and cities across the country.

Burial

Burial in a cemetery requires a surviving spouse, parent or child to ask permission from the mairie. This is a formality and will usually be granted – though there are exceptions.

The deceased can be buried in the commune where they lived, where they died or where they have a family tomb.

Families may request to have them buried in another city, town or village (for example, if that’s where other family members) but the mairie may decline the request.

If the deceased had not already reserved a burial plot (une concession) you need to buy one. This is done at the mairie or at the bureau des cimetières. Costs vary depending on timespan which ranges from five – 15 years, to perpetuity and can usually be paid in installments. Arrangements may be made if the family lacks the means to pay.

Enquiries about burial must be made as soon as possible to organise a time and date for a funeral. If a burial plot had been previously reserved, you should find a document called a titre de concession confirming this.

Normally cemeteries require flat paving to be placed over the grave before the family can install a headstone.

Cremation

As with burials, permission for a cremation has to be obtained from the town hall of the commune where the death took place, as cremations usually take place at the crematorium nearest the place of death.

A medical certificate showing there are no medical or legal reasons preventing cremation is required. Medical implants such as pacemakers must be removed by a doctor or embalmer.

Following any short service, ashes are handed to a family member privately shortly after the funeral, or may be stored temporarily while the family considers what they plan to do with them. 

But there are strict rules on where ashes may be scattered. You can’t just throw them anywhere –  for example, scattering them on private land is banned. Communes will usually have a remembrance garden used for this purpose, but – again – surviving family members may be required to ask permission from the mairie to use it. 

Who pays?

Funeral expenses in France are covered by the estate of the deceased, usually their bank account. If the money in their accounts isn’t enough to cover the overall fee, heirs or family members must pay the difference.

The person taking charge of the funeral may, upon presentation of the funeral invoice, obtain the debit from the bank account of the deceased, which is to say, the required amount for the payment of funeral expenses, with a limit of €5,000. Beyond this amount, a notary needs to get involved.

If the deceased had funeral insurance, contact the insurer as soon as possible after death.

Seven days and after

Within seven days of the person’s death, you should notify their employer if they were working, health and life insurance companies, bank (do mention if you shared a joint account), and their landlord, if they were renting.

Within 30 days, notify France’s primary health insurance fund CPAM and return the deceased’s carte vitale health card.

Within six months, make sure you have informed the tax office with reference to income tax declarations and other relevant fiscal information. The process can be done online in the first two months after the person’s death.

Inheritance

A notary must be contacted promptly, in order to open the inheritance file. There is a six-month time limit for the filing of the succession declaration and the payment of an inheritance tax, if the death took place in France, twelve months in other cases. This is usually sufficient for an estate to be settled.

Notaires de France has a comprehensive English-language inheritance guide on its website.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CRIME

What to do if you are arrested in France

Everything you need to know if you find yourself in handcuffs in France.

What to do if you are arrested in France

France’s legal system is born out of its Code Civil, and for criminal proceedings, the relevant legal infrastructure is the Code pénal.

The way the system works is very different to many anglophone countries, so if you are arrested do not expect events to follow the pattern you would expect in your home country.

Here are some of the scenarios you might find yourself in, and what to expect:

The police have stopped me:

There are a few scenarios here, they could give you an amende (fine), it could just be a contrôle d’identité (ID check) or contrôle routière (traffic stop) or you could be under arrest. 

READ ALSO Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

Fine – If they have stopped you to give you an amende, this is likely because you committed a minor infraction. 

This could be a traffic related offence – maybe you went through a red-light while riding your bicycle – or a minor crime such as littering.

The amount of the fine will depend on the severity of the infraction, which is at the discretion of the police officer. In most scenarios, the officer will ask for proof of identity, your address, and then the fine will be sent to your home. You’d be advised to pay it right away, because if you delay the fee can be increased.

Be aware that police officers will not ask you to hand over cash on the spot. It’s unfortunately true that scammers prey on tourists by pretending to be police and asking for cash ‘fines’ – a legitimate officer will not ask for this.

If you’re on public transport, transport police such as the Paris-based RATP Sûreté are also empowered to stop you and to issue fines if you have committed an offence such as travelling without a ticket. 

READ ALSO ‘Don’t mess with French cops’ – Tips for dealing with police in France

ID check – The other scenario where you could be stopped by a police officer is during a contrôle d’identité (identity check). This is when a police officer stops to check your identity, and it can only happen under certain conditions: they suspect you have committed or will commit a crime, you are in a ‘dangerous’ location where crime is known to occur, the public prosecutor has ordered an area to be watched, or you are operating a motorised vehicle (contrôle routière).

If you refuse to provide proof of identity, the police can find you guilty of refusing to obey or find you guilty of contempt and rebellion. If you do not have documents on your person to prove your identity, the officer can take you to the police station to check your identity there.

Many activists and NGOs argue that police practice racial profiling when they perform ID checks and it’s unfortunately the case that these ‘random’ checks do seem to happen more frequently to people of colour.  

Arrests – Finally, an officer might arrest you.

The French criminal code allows police to arrest and detain (for a limited period of time) any person against whom there exists one or more plausible reasons to suspect that they have committed or attempted to commit a criminal offence – this is at the discretion of the officer so it can cover a pretty broad range of circumstances.

Detention

The French police are allowed to detain you if the police suspect you have committed or could commit a crime that is punishable by jail time. This means they cannot detain you for something that is punishable simply by a fine, but no arrest warrant is required in order to detain you.

If police detain you, you need to be aware of your rights: 

  • Right to interpretation and translation if needed
  • Right to information (you have the right to know the exact legal definition of what you’ve been accused of)
  • Right to legal assistance (from the moment of arrest)
  • Right to have someone, such as a family member, be made aware of your arrest
  • Right to have an opportunity to communicate with your family
  • Right to be in contact with your country’s consulate and receive visits if you are arrested outside your home country
  • Right to the presumption of innocence
  • Right to remain silent and the right against self-incrimination
  • Right to be present at your trial
  • Right to consult police documents related to the investigation such as: the transcript of police interviews, medical certificates and notice of the rights in custody

In most circumstances you can only be held a maximum of 24 hours.

This can be extended if the crime you’re accused of is punishable of more than a year in prison. If so, the initial period of custody can be increased by 24 hours (up to 48 hours in total). In order for it to be extended, a public prosecutor must deem it necessary.

If the crime you are accused of is punishable by more than 10 years in prison, or relates to organised crime, initial detention can be up to four days, while those suspected of terror offences can be detained for a maximum of 144 hours (six days).

Court hearing

If the offence you are accused of is too serious to be dealt with by way of a fine, you will need to appear before a court.

If you’ve found yourself in this unfortunate situation, you should know that your hearing could either take place immediately at the end of your time in police custody or it could be sometime in the distant future – maybe even years later if it’s a complex matter.

The location of your hearing will depend on the severity of your offence: petty offences (contraventions) are typically dealt with in police courts (tribunal de police) or ‘jurisdictions of proximity’ (juridiction de proximité).

For misdemeanour crimes such as theft, you would likely go to a correctional court (tribunal correctionnel), and for the most serious offences such as rape or violent crimes you would be tried in a criminal court called a cour d’assises or la cour criminelle

If you have a ‘fast-tracked proceeding’ (comparutions immediates), this is because the public prosecutor has chosen this avenue.

Typically, it only happens in very straightforward cases, and it would involve your case being heard immediately at the end of your time in police custody (garde à vue). You cannot request a fast-tracked proceeding yourself. You should be advised that in these situations, it means that there is very little time to prepare a defence. You can request more time, and of course, you can request a lawyer. A fast-tracked proceeding will happen in the tribunel correctionnel.

There is also the option of a “Comparution sur reconnaissance préalable de culpabilité” (CRPC), which is a pre-trial guilty plea procedure. In order to go through this procedure, you must have the assistance of a lawyer

Ongoing detention

If your offence is too serious for an immediate court hearing, you will need to wait for a court date.

In most cases you will be released from custody while you wait for the hearing under contrôle judiciaire, which is similar to bail and often involves certain conditions such as not attempting to contact the victim or witnesses in the case.

In certain circumstances the judge can institute a caution, which is a sum of money that must be paid to ensure that the person be present at the proceedings, but paying money for bail is much less common in France than it is in the USA.

If you are a foreigner you will likely have your passport taken and be forbidden from leaving the country. If you do not have a permanent residence in France, the court can assign you one and demand that you stay in France until your hearing date.

If you commit further offences, or try to contact witnesses or victims while waiting for your hearing, or breach any of the conditions, you are likely to be brought back into custody.

I want to contact my embassy

You have the right to contact your embassy at any point after an arrest, though you will need to expressly request this, they will not be automatically contacted when you are arrested.

The role of the Embassy is much more limited than many people think – the Embassy is there to ensure that you are not being mistreated because of your nationality. As long as you are being given the same rights as a French national in the same scenario, The Embassy will not intervene on your behalf.

The Embassy does not have the power to tell a court whether you’re guilty or innocent, to provide legal advice, to serve as an official interpreter or translator, or to pay any legal, medical, or other fees.

They can, however, help you to find the above services, and most embassies have a list of English-speaking lawyers. 

If you have been incarcerated, depending on the country you come from, the French government might be required to inform your country of your incarceration. For US citizens, this requirement exists with your permission, and for UK citizens the obligation to inform exists even without your permission.

I would like legal assistance

You can request a lawyer at any time when in police custody in France.

As mentioned above, your embassy is a great resource for finding an English-speaking lawyer. Most embassy websites will have extensive directories for lawyers.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to find a lawyer in France

You can also check the local “tribunal d’instance” (your local courthouse), your département’s bar association (le batonnier/ Barreau), or consult websites, such as AngloInfo, which compile directories of English-speaking lawyers. 

If you cannot afford legal representation and need legal aid, you must be able to prove that you are low income. You can contact the Maison de Justice, which is the courthouse. Your département or region should have a website explaining the legal aids near you. This is Paris’ for example, HERE

Key Vocabulary

Appeal: appel

Bail: contrôle judiciaire

Bar Association: l’ordre des avocats/ barreau

Charge/Indictment: Accusations

Embassy: Ambassade

File: Dossier

Investigative Judge: Juge d’instruction

Judge: Juge or Magistrat

Lawyer: Avocat – keep in mind, when addressing a lawyer you should use the honorific Maître (the same title applies for male and female lawyers)

Judgment: Jugement

Legal Aid: Aide juridictionelle

Criminal offence: infractions

Felony: un crime

Misdemeanour: un délit

Petty crime: contravention

Police Custody: garde à vue

Public Prosecutor: Procureur de la République

Sentence: Peine

Warrant: Mandat

Witness: Témoin

Expert help for this article was provided by Maitre Matthieu Chirez, who is a practicing lawyer at J.P. Karsenty & Associates and is specialised in criminal law. You can access the firm’s website HERE.

Please note that this article is not a substitute for legal advice and if you find yourself in trouble with the French legal system you should always get professional help.

SHOW COMMENTS