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Planning wills and estates in France

Updated: Sep 14, 2022


Are you currently residing in France as an expatriate? Using our guide on wills and estate planning in France, you may ensure that you have adequately secured both yourself and your assets against any contingency that may arise.


Wills in France may come in a variety of formats, ranging from handwritten copies on paper to mysterious notes that are only read after the deceased person's passing. Be careful to put your last wishes in writing and have them witnessed by a public notary if you live in France or have assets there.


The present French inheritance system is built on a lengthy history of family scandal and generational riches, which explains why the component of forced heirship is non-negotiable. If you are making a will in France, you should conduct your research and, if necessary, seek the advice of a professional.


Wills and estates in the French legal system


Because the French inheritance system is so conventional and rigorous, many French citizens do not even create a will because they are certain that the inheritance rules would provide for their family.


However, if you are not a resident of France but have loved ones or property located outside of the country, it is in your best interest to draught a will in which your desires are made clear. It is important to note that heirs have a natural right to a piece of the estate of the dead person, which might include things like bank accounts, assets, and properties.


Inheritance law in France


The French civil code is the source of French inheritance law, which employs a residence-based approach to inheritance law. This means that French inheritance law applies to all people who are living in France, regardless of their country.


The rules of inheritance in France use a system called compulsory heirship, which protects a person's immediate family members, including their children, grandchildren, and parents. A certain percentage of the inheritance must be put aside, and the exact amount is determined by the number of children. The breakdown of the numbers is as follows:


● If there is just one kid, that child is entitled to 50% of the inheritance.

● If there are two children, each kid will get an equal share of 66.6% of the inheritance.

● When there are three or more children, they are each entitled to a share of 75% of the inheritance.

● When a person passes away without any children, the dead person's surviving parent or parents each get 25% of the inheritance, or 50% if both parents are still alive.


French law about pensions and inheritances


The ability to survive family members to receive the pension of a dead loved one is contingent upon several circumstances, the most important of which are the age of the surviving family member and the amount of money they continue to bring in (s). You won't receive this for free, but if you meet the requirements, you may apply for it.


To get the most out of your choices, it is in your best interest to seek the guidance of a professional who is familiar with the circumstances surrounding your decision-making process.


Applicable foreign inheritance laws in France


Wills drafted in other countries are recognized by French inheritance law as long as they comply with the legal requirements of the nation in which they were drafted. Because of this, non-French citizens who make their home in France do not require to create a will under French law.


You should give some thought to making a French will, however, if you want to employ French inheritance law or if you wish to have a will that is written in the French language.


Rejecting assets and contesting wills in France


Children can renounce their claim to an inheritance in France so long as the process is carried out in the presence of two notaries. However, after a parent has passed away, you are no longer able to remove this permission.


Because the regulations of inheritance in France are so stringent, there are only a few circumstances in which you may oppose a will. One of these circumstances is if the will excludes the rightful heirs, for example.


Gifts that a dead person made during their lifetime may be subject to legal dispute by the deceased person's heirs under certain circumstances. You must seek the assistance of a legal expert if you want to challenge a will.


Inheritance law in France if there is no will


The laws of intestacy in France are put into effect whenever a person passes away without leaving a will. This indicates that the surviving children and spouse will get their appropriate share of the inheritance after its distribution. The spouse has the option of either taking full ownership of their portion (which must be at least 25%) or retaining a life interest in the property in France (the right to use it throughout their lifetime). In situations like these, ownership of the whole estate is often distributed among the children.


Unclaimed inheritance in France


Inheritance law in France places a premium on maintaining strong family ties, giving precedence to spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, and siblings. If none of these relatives are still alive, the inheritance will be distributed among the surviving aunts, uncles, and cousins. If there are no surviving relatives, the inheritance will be given to the state of the deceased individual's home.


Gifts before death


Gifts of assets during a person's lifetime are subject to taxation at rates that are comparable to French inheritance tax rates and are offset by tax allowances that are also comparable to those rates. The most important distinction is that spouses and partners are not excluded from paying gift tax to one another, but the tax limit on presents between spouses and partners is now €80,724.


Once every 15 years, you are allowed to make gifts that are exempt from tax up to the amount that is defined as your tax allowance. In addition, the 15-year window must have passed for the gift to be exempt from the estate of the person who gave it to the recipient.


To put it another way, if you give someone an asset that falls within the scope of the tax-free allowance and then passes away before the 15-year period has elapsed, the value of the asset will be added to the value of your estate to calculate the French inheritance tax, and additional tax costs may also be incurred.


Wills in France


Wills are important for everyone, whether they live in the state or not since they ensure that one's last desires are carried out. If you are a foreign resident in France and have not specified in any will that you want the laws of your country of nationality to apply, then French inheritance law will automatically apply. This occurs if you have not specified in any will that you want the laws of your country of nationality to apply.


If you leave sections of your assets in an international will that encroach into the reserve that needs to go to recognized heirs, then these amounts will need to be decreased to satisfy the requirements of the will.


Can I write my will in my language?


Under the provisions of an international will, which was made available in 1994 for foreigners and French nationals residing abroad, you have the option of writing your will in either English or another language.


It is acceptable to have two wills, one written out in your home country and another in France, as long as neither will inadvertently revoke or nullifies the provisions of the other will. If you are considering acting in this manner, you should get the advice of an attorney at the earliest possible opportunity.


Is it possible for me to make changes after the fact?


Because the act of writing a new will instantly render the previous will invalid, a French will may have its terms altered or revoked at any point in time. If it's a holographic will and you want to revoke a French will, all you have to do is destroy it. It won't have any effect. On the other hand, some types of will need a declaration to be made in the presence of a notary public.


Types of wills in France


In France, there are three distinct forms of will:


A holographic will, also known as a testament olographe, is a straightforward French will that does not include any formalities.


Authentic will, also known as a testament authentique, is a will written in French that is signed by witnesses and created in the presence of a notary public. This will cost something in the range of €150–€200. (the French notary organization maintains an official list of notaries).


Mystic will: a secret will be sealed in an envelope.


How to write wills in France


The steps involved in making a will vary according to the kind of will that is selected as well as the amount of assistance from a qualified third party that is required.


A holographic representation of French will

Although it is the sort of French will that may be prepared with the least amount of difficulty, it is also the one that is most easily challenged in court if it has not been set out properly.


The following is the proper way to construct holographic wills:


● It should be made abundantly clear where the preparation will take place and when;

● On standard white paper, it should be scrawled in black ink, and the page should be blank.

● It is required that each page be signed, numbered, and initialed;

● It ought to start with the lines "This is my will," and then it ought to indicate the name of the testator;

● The entire names, addresses, and relationships to the testator must be fully mentioned for each beneficiary;

● Everything that is written has to be understandable and free of ambiguity;

● It is important to give the details of the executors and notaries (if they were selected);

● It is possible to express it in any language.


Holographic wills may be stored by the testator, another individual designated by the testator, or filed away with a bank or notary public. It is also possible to register it with the Central Register of Recent Voluntary Dispositions (Fichier Central des Dispositions de Dernieres Volontes) (FCDDV).


Authentic French will


Because it must be registered with the FCDDV by a notary, this kind of will in France offers the highest level of protection available under the law. However, the notary will assess the price of their services. The procedure begins with the testator providing a dictation, which is subsequently typed down by a notary. After that, in the presence of the notary public, the testator and the two witnesses sign it.


Mystic French will


This is a French will that is kept under wraps until the testator passes away, therefore the contents are a mystery. The testator either writes it down by hand or types it onto a computer, after which they sign it, place it in an envelope, and get it notarized in front of two witnesses. The notary public will next make a mark of registration on the envelope that has been sealed.


Executing wills and grant of probate in France


There is no such thing as a grant of probate, and nobody is in charge of administering the estate of the dead, in contrast to other nations such as the United Kingdom. Instead, the assets are transferred straight to the recipients who were supposed to receive them. If you are not acquainted with this system, you should conduct some study and get the opinion of an expert before moving further.


Estate valuation in France


Your circumstances will undoubtedly dictate the contents of your will. If you are confused about whether or not to specify a specific item in your will, you should consult an attorney or another qualified specialist.


In general, though, your estate will consist of investable assets (such as checking and savings accounts), real estate, pensions, and other types of property. In addition, if you would like to have an estate legally appraised, you should call a notary to conduct the procedure for you. However, you should be aware that you will be required to pay the price that the notary charges for their services.


You are required to hire a notary public in specific scenarios, such as when the dead person had property in France or when their estate was worth more than 50,000 euros when they passed away.


Inheritance tax in France


The French government bases the amount of inheritance tax on the recipient's connection to the dead person. The following is a general rundown of the rates:


Spouses


In France, couples who are legally wed or who are partners in a civil relationship are no longer required to pay the inheritance tax.


Parents, children, and grandchildren


Tax-free allowance: €100,000

5% tax up to €8,072

10% on €8,072–€12,109

15% on €12,109–€15,932

20% on €15,932–€552,324

30% on €552,324–€902,838

40% on €902,838–€1,805,677

45% on over €1,805,677


Brothers and sisters


Tax-free allowance: €15,932

35% tax up to €24,430

45% on more than €24,430

Other relatives up to the fourth degree

Tax-free allowance: €7,967

55% flat-rate tax


Remote relatives and other beneficiaries


Tax-free allowance: €1,594 (€159,325 if disabled)

60% flat-rate tax



Tips on planning your estate in France


Although France's inheritance laws have evolved greatly over the years, it is possible for foreigners to erroneously conclude that French inheritance law is comparable to those of their own country. French laws are probably still rather different, and the best approach to preserve your assets in France and overseas is to contact a notaire and, in certain instances, make wills. This is because French laws are likely to have evolved.


In addition, you must seek the assistance of a professional estate planner for more complicated matters, such as appointing a power of attorney, deciding whether to provide gifts during your lifetime or after your death and determining whether they should be in the form of lump sums or a regular income. These concerns call for a lot of careful consideration and decision-making. They have achieved their level of expertise for a reason, and you do not want to mess up such an important document.


Useful resources


French Tax Administration

Notaires de France


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