New French inheritance rules override expats’ rights to apply British law

Florence Richards

French Property/Tax Adviser

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September 9, 2021

Categories French Property Law Updates

A new inheritance law introduced by the French Parliament could have far-reaching consequences for Brits with property or assets in France, according to a lawyer specialising in French property and tax law.

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

Florence Richards, a French Property and Tax adviser at law firm Furley Page, explained: “Contrary to English succession law, which provides for full testamentary freedom, French succession law gives all the children of the deceased person an entitlement to a reserved portion of their parent’s estate. This is known as the réserve héréditaire and cannot be set aside by the testator in their Will, regardless of their wishes.

“British nationals had been given the option to avoid French succession law under an EU regulation from August 2015. This gave British expats living in France the option to apply the succession law of the country of their nationality, so effectively they could dispose of their estate as they wished.

“However, last month the French Parliament adopted a new law which comes into effect from 1 November 2021, and will have a major impact on British nationals who live in France or in any other EU Member State.

“The new law provides that the heirs can re-instate their reserved rights under French succession law in cases where the foreign law (such as British law) does not allow any concept similar to the réserve héréditaire.

“So, despite the EU Regulation allowing them to opt in their Will for English succession law, the children are able to override this by claiming their right to a reserved portion of the French estate under French succession law. This new provision applies for all children, whether they are children of the current marriage or born of a previous relationship.”

French notaires will now be required to determine if, under French succession law, the children’s reserved portion of the estate is respected. If they decide it is not, the notaires will have the legal obligation to contact all children and invite them to claim their reserved rights over their parent’s estate.

Florence continued: “It is too soon to fully understand all the practical implications as the law is still so new. However, it is vital that all British nationals owning French assets, whether they reside in the EU or not, consider the wording of their Wills and understand the potential impact of French succession law. Navigating French succession laws can be complex and legal advice from an expert solicitor on these matters has never been so vital.”

For advice and support about a range of French tax and French property and estate matters, please contact Furley Page by email or call 01227 763939.