French Inheritance law overrides British expats’ rights to apply English law

Sharon Wilson-Dutin


View bio

October 17, 2022

Categories French Property Law Updates

The recent inheritance law introduced by the French Parliament and that came into effect last year on 1st November 2021 could have widespread consequences for Brits with property or assets in France, according to a French Avocate practicing in the area of French property and succession laws, as well as estate administration.

The recent legislation gives all children of the deceased, the right to claim a portion of their parent’s estate, provided that at the time of the parent’s death they are an EU National or reside in an EU member state.

Sharon Wilson-Dutin, Avocate in the French Property and Estates Services team at the British law firm Furley Page, explained “ Contrary to English succession law, which provides full testamentary freedom, under French succession law, the children (Les héritiers réservataires) of the deceased are entitled to a reserved portion of their parents’ estate.

This is known as the reserve héréditaire and cannot be set aside by the testators in their will, irrespective of their wishes.

“ However, since August 2015, EU regulation n° 650/2012 has given British nationals the option to avoid French succession law. Thus, British expats living in France have been able to choose the law of the country of their nationality to govern their estate and as a consequence; they could then dispose of their estate as they so desired.

“Nevertheless, there has been a dramatic change, as the French Parliament has intervened by adopting a new law that came into effect on 1st November 2021, and that now has an impact on British nationals who are living in France or any other EU member state or who also have French nationality or that of another EU member state.

The recent law, set out in article 913 of the French Civil Code, provides that heirs can re-instate their reserved rights under French succession law in a case where the foreign law (such as English law) does not provide for the system of the réserve héréditaire.

“Therefore, despite the EU Regulation allowing them to opt in their Will for English succession law, the children are still able to override this, by claiming their right to a reserved portion of their parents’ French estate under French succession law. This law applies to all children, whether children of the current marriage, a previous marriage, an adoption, a relationship outside of the marriage or of a couple who were never married (provided that, in the last two cases, the deceased parent, notably the father, had also legally declared them as theirs) ” .

Sharon continued “It is still too soon to fully assess all the practical implications, as this law is still new and remains yet to be tested over time. However, it is vital that all British nationals owning assets in France, whether they reside in the EU or not , or also have EU nationality, pay special attention to the wording of their Wills and understand the potential impact of French succession law. Navigating French succession law is complex and seeking legal advice from an experienced French Avocate on these matters has never been of such primary importance as it is today.

For advice and support on a wide range of French property, succession and estate administration matters please contact Sharon Wilson-Dutin, Avocate, in our French property team at Furley Page on 01227 763939.