The role of the Notary Public in French property transactions – Updated Aug 2020

Florence Richards

French Property/Tax Adviser

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August 18, 2020

Categories French Property Law Updates

If you are involved in buying or selling property in France you will be aware of the important role of the notaire in the transaction.

The notaire in France and other continental jurisdictions occupies a different position from that of a solicitor or conveyancer in England and Wales.

Property cannot change hands in France legally without the involvement of a notaire. Because a purchase or sale of French property requires the personal involvement of a notaire at the point of completion this means that the purchaser or seller has to attend in person in front of the notaire when completion takes place. This can be why a notaire local to the property is often used, but it is possible to instruct a notaire who is not in the same region.

The only way personal attendance at the notaire’s office can be avoided is if the purchaser or seller appoints another person to act as his or her attorney to attend the notaire in his or her place.

A power of attorney (a procuration) then has to be drawn up and signed in good time before completion is due to take place.

The power of attorney can be signed in this country (as the whole purpose of it is to avoid an unnecessary journey to France) but French law requires that the document must be signed in the presence of a suitable qualified professional. This is where a notary public often gets involved, as he or she is recognised as having the appropriate qualifications and international status to authenticate the power of attorney for use in France.

Most notaries in this country also practise as solicitors but have undertaken additional studies and examinations in order to obtain a separate qualification as a notary public.

The international duty of a notary public involves a high standard of care. This is not only towards you as the client but also to anyone who may rely on the document being signed. Before the notary witnesses your signature, he or she needs to be satisfied as to your identity and that you understand the transaction in question and are fully willing to enter into it.

The first problem will often be one of language and so normally a power of attorney being executed for use in France will be prepared in both French and English. If this is not done then the notary will first of all have to be satisfied that you understand the document notwithstanding the fact that it is written in French. If necessary, a translator will have to be involved before you sign the document.

Once the document has been duly signed and witnessed it will often be necessary before the document can be used in France for the notary public’s signature and seal to be formally verified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office placing their own seal on the document. This seal is known as an apostille – and is something which the notary public can arrange for you as required.

It’s not always the case that a notary public is required. For some document signing, a French notaire will accept a solicitor to witness your signature.

It is important to ask the notaire to confirm his or her requirements for each power of attorney.

For further information contact Florence Richards on 01227 763939.