French Property Law
This is a simplified guide to the estate administration process in France. You will need to seek specific legal advice on your own circumstances. We have experience in acting for beneficiaries of a French estate.
If a person dies in France, a French death certificate (acte de décès) will be produced. There are procedures to follow to organise cremation or burial in France, and there are rules covering the repatriation of a body to the UK.
Assets in France vest directly in beneficiaries, usually without the involvement of someone appointed as testamentary executor. An executor’s role in France is more limited than that of an executor in the UK. The absolute vesting of assets in the beneficiaries can sometimes cause problems if a beneficiary is a minor and he inherits an interest in land.
If the deceased left a Will (a French Will or one drawn in another country) this will need to be located. A search at the French Wills Registry will help to ascertain whether a French Will is in existence.
The assets and liabilities in the estate will need to be identified.
In order to work out whether French inheritance law, or another country’s law, applies to the distribution of the estate, the deceased’s domicile status at the date of death will need to be ascertained. For example, if the deceased was domiciled in England at the time of death his French immovable assets (i.e. property in France) will be distributed in accordance with French law and his movable assets (e.g. bank accounts and personal items in France) will be distributed in accordance with English law.
A Notaire is usually instructed to deal with the administration of an estate, although he is not always required. If the French estate comprises a property or if the deceased left a Will, a Notaire will need to be involved.
The Notaire will draft three main documents in respect of the administration of the estate:
The distribution of the estate under French law may not in some circumstances follow the wishes of the testator set out in a non-French Will. This is because French law provides that certain family members should not be disinherited. For example, children are entitled to receive a portion of the estate on a parent’s death.
This emphasises the importance of getting French succession and inheritance tax advice when you own French assets. It is important that you take notice of the French succession rules when completing a Will, and also when buying a property as there are some steps you can take to delay or exclude French legal rights from taking effect.
Beneficiaries have three options regarding their inheritance. They can decide to accept their inheritance, renounce their inheritance rights, or accept their inheritance subject to a schedule of assets and liabilities (to confirm the asset values will outweigh the liabilities).
The distribution of a French property following death will depend upon how it is owned and how it was being used.
If the property was the deceased’s main residence then a surviving spouse has the right during a year following death to continue occupying the property, regardless of how it is due to be distributed.
If the property was owned en tontine then the surviving co-owner will automatically become the sole owner of the property, unless the tontine provision is declared to be invalid.
A surviving spouse will become the sole owner of the property if it was the subject of a matrimonial property regime in the form of a communauté universelle avec clause d’attribution intégrale (community of property regime) in France.
If the property was owned en indivision or solely by the deceased then French succession law may allow a surviving spouse to choose to take an usufruit in the property. In these circumstances the surviving spouse would be entitled to occupy the property or receive any rent from it. Any subsequent sale of the property would need the consent of the ultimate beneficiaries of the land (the nue propriétaires).
French inheritance tax is calculated very differently to UK inheritance tax. Each beneficiary has a nil rate band allowance, and the level of the allowance is set according to his relationship to the deceased. Each beneficiary is responsible for payment of his share of French inheritance tax.
For further information please contact Sarah Bogard.
French Taxes Update
Following the appointment of new French President François Hollande in May 2012 the French Government has made a number of changes the French taxation system. The new tax laws were published in the Loi de Finances Rectificative de 2012 (LDFR 2012) and entered into force on 17 August 2012.
Furley Page provided and very professional service. Everything was made as clear as could be, enquiries were always answered immediately, or as soon as possible. Staff were very understanding and accommodating
French Property Client of Sarah Bogard