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EXPLAINED: How France’s inheritance tax system works

Read our guide to the complex labyrinth of laws and tax policies governing the France's system of inheritance - one that is heavily weighted towards direct parent-to-child succession.

People attend a funeral in Marseille.
France has strict rules on inheritance that it is well-worth reading up on. (Photo by Sylvain THOMAS / AFP)

French law has rules in place on who you can leave property or money to and effectively rules out disinheriting your children – find full details on how the rules work HERE.

But as well as the limits imposed by the law, the French tax system is also weighed in favour of direct parent-to-child inheritance – or succession en ligne direct in French. 

Here’s what you need to know: 

What are the current tax rates? 

The amount of tax you have to pay for inheritance depends on your link to the deceased. 

If you were married or Pacsé (in a civil partnership), you are exonerated from paying any inheritance tax. Couples who are living together but are not married or pacsé get no special dispensation and pay tax at the standard rates for non-relatives (see below). 

If you are the sibling of the deceased, you are exonerated from paying tax if you meet all three of the following conditions at the time of the death:

  • You have lived with the deceased on a permanent basis in the five years leading up to the death;
  • You are single, widowed, divorced or separated;
  • You are older than 50 years old or have a medical condition that means you cannot work. 

For children inheriting from their parents and vice versa, there is no need to pay any tax on an inherited estate valued at less than €100,000. This rule also applies to grandparents inheriting from their grandchildren – but not the other way around. 

After that, the tax on inheritance is anywhere from 5 percent to 45 percent depending on the value of wealth inherited. 

The tax rates for children inheriting from their parents differ according to the value of the estate inherited. Source: service-public.fr

The same rates of tax also applies to people inheriting from their grandparents or great grandparents – although the initial tax free allowance is set lower, at €1,594. 

For inheritance between siblings who do not meet the exoneration conditions set out at the beginning of this section, there is an initial tax-free allowance of €15,932. After that inheritance worth less than €24,430 is taxed at 35 percent. Inheritance worth more than this is taxed at 45 percent. 

READ MORE What are the rules on inheriting property in France?

Nephews and nieces can inherit €7,967 tax free but afterwards must pay an inheritance tax of 55 percent. If they are inheriting in the place of one of their parents (who has either died or has renounced their right to inheritance), nephews and nieces face the same tax rates as siblings of the deceased. 

Great nephews and nieces, great uncles and aunts, and cousins can inherit up to €1,594 tax free and then must pay a 55 percent inheritance tax on anything above this. People who are more distantly related to the deceased or not related at all have the same tax-free allowance and then must pay a flat 60 percent inheritance tax. 

If you are disabled, the tax free allowance increases by an extra €159,325. If you were injured in war (to the degree that the French state considers you 50 percent disabled), you can also receive a 50 percent reduction of the amount of tax to be paid on inheritance – although this reduction is capped at €305. 

How is the taxable value of the inherited estate calculated? 

The savings plus estimated value of the property and goods of the deceased are added together. 

Debts, outstanding loans,  taxes owed, and rent due by the deceased are subtracted from this amount – as long as they were already valid at the time of death and can be proved. Funeral fees of up to €1,500 can also be subtracted from the overall value of inheritance. These debts must be declared on the déclaration de succession – a document that any inheritor must sign. 

Then the inheritance is divided up, according to the rules outlined below. As previously mentioned, different tax rates apply depending on the inheritor’s relation to the deceased. 

There is an online simulator to help you calculate the amount of inheritance tax you will have to pay. 

What are the rules on who can inherit? 

The French law states that children of the deceased must receive a share of the inheritance. 

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 surviving husband or wife has a right to at least one quarter of the succession. Those who were in a PACS partnership or were living with the deceased as a couple (en concubinage) have no automatic rights to inheritance if the deceased had children. 

If you are the surviving husband/wife of the deceased, you normally have the right to remain living at the property, if it was owned or co-owned with the deceased. 

But if you were married to the deceased and shared ownership of a property with other people, you only have the automatic right to remain living there for one year following the death. 

If you were in a PACS partnership with the deceased, you have the automatic right to stay in the property for one year following the death if you were co-owners of the property or if the property was entirely owned by your partner (unless your partner has written you out of their will).

If you were living as a couple with the deceased (en concubinage), you do not have the automatic right to remain living at the property as the law states that inheritance must go to children or other family members as a priority. 

Special rules apply if the deceased didn’t have children. 

If the deceased was married, without children, but both their parents are still alive, half the inheritance goes to the parents and half goes to the husband/wife. 

If just one parent is still alive, one quarter goes to the parent and three quarters go to the surviving husband/wife. 

If neither parent is alive, the surviving husband/wife receives all of the inheritance. 

In the case that the deceased was unmarried and without children, the inheritance is split between surviving parents and siblings. If there are no parents or siblings, the inheritance is split between more distant family members as a priority. 

For more on the rules of inheritance, click HERE.

Rules for foreign residents and second home owners

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.

If you have a Will and your main residence is in another country, your French property can usually be disposed of according to the law of that country, it is advisable to add a Codicil to your Will stipulating that you want your home country’s laws to apply.  

READ MORE Is my non-French Will valid in France?

If you decide to have your estate managed under the laws of your country of birth, you may not have to guarantee that your children receive a fixed share of inheritance. It could also potentially save you having to pay French inheritance tax – although you should get legal advice on this from a notaire or avocat.

To find out how to make sure any previous Wills are still valid in France, click here

If you want to create a new Will in France, any notaire should be able to help you do so – typically for €136. 

You can also register your existing Will with a notaire – this is free if the notaire has prepared the Will – and that ensures that everything is in place for a smooth process for the family after the death. 

Note – this is general advice only, for specific questions on estate planning or Wills, please contact a legal expert. 

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

Member comments

  1. Since about 5 years ago, the Brussels IV convention under EU law provides the option for resident foreign nationals resident in France (including Brits) to stipulate succession (nothing else) under the law of their nationality. In November last year a French law was passed which withdrew or severely limited this option, creating problems for those wanting the option. There are rumours of this new law being quashed for its invalidity under EU law – but it remains to be seen! In the meantime, for those not wanting to follow the dictats of French succession rules, a Notaire’s advice on what to do might be invaluable.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting France

Ever wondered how to avoid paying exorbitant roaming fees when travelling in France? There are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by a big bill.

How to avoid huge 'roaming' phone bills while visiting France

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country than you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but non-Europeans need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with “Three” for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in France. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in France.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

Orange Holiday

This is one of France’s largest and most reputable telephone companies. The “Orange Holiday” SIM card exists specifically for tourists. At €39.99, you will get a SIM card that will enable you to make and receive calls and texts from a French phone number. You will have unlimited calls and texts within Europe, as well as two hours of calls and 1000 texts outside of Europe (for messaging people at home, for example). You will also have access to 30GB of data in Europe. 

The initial plan is valid for 14 days, and begins as soon as you begin calling, texting, or surfing the web. In order to get this SIM card, you can go into any Orange store and request it. Some supermarkets and airport kiosks might also carry this SIM card.

SFR

SFR is another well-known French phone company. Their pre-paid SIM card is called “La Carte,” and they offer several different options based on how much internet, calling, and texting you want access to. The basic plan is for 30 days and starts at €9.99 a month, which includes a €10 credit. Once the card is in your cellphone, you can add on a top-up option as needed.

You can buy this SIM card either online or in an SFR store. 

La Poste Mobile

This is the French phone company that operates in conjunction to the post office. What is especially convenient about this SIM card is that you should be able to get it at any post office in France. Plans range from €5 to €30 based on the number of days and the amount of calling, texting, and internet you are looking for. 

Bouygues Telecom

Finally, Bouygues Telecom also has some offers for prepaid SIM cards. Their plan, the “My European SIM” is especially made for tourists. It costs €39.90 and allows you unlimited calling and texting in France and Europe. The plan offers 20Gb of data. You can plan ahead for your trip by ordering this card online, but you can only activate it once you arrive in France.

The card actually comes along with a tourist guide (offered in 10 languages) and a map of Paris Metro.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in France, it is important to be sure you are buying a pre-paid SIM, rather than accidentally signing up for a monthly plan.

Some mobile phone carriers offer very affordable monthly plans, which might look appealing to tourists. However, these plans will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, and many involve complex processes, including sending a registered cancellation letter (in French), in order to cancel the plan.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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