Over the past years, we have received an increasing number of files from British citizens with problems in regards to their probate issues in France.
In the role of notaries, we would like to shed some light on some of the most striking points concerning French probate laws in order to avoid worries right from the beginning of the purchasing process.
Under the Napoleonic Code, a certain portion of the estate called the ‘reserve’ is automatically set aside to be attributed to the deceased’s heirs regardless of their intentions. The surviving spouse may have the right to live in the property, but may not dispose freely of it.
These rules are applied when an inheritance falls under French law. This is the case when non-French residents live permanently in France at the moment of their death, and non-French residents live outside France but have a property in France.
In order to avoid complicated French probate issues, a couple of ways exist to facilitate inheritance solutions to reflect a more English approach:
Among the cases mostly cited is the so-called signing of the ‘universal community’ marriage contract enabling the surviving spouse to automatically inherit within the community without paying inheritance taxes. This law, however, can only be applied to spouses with children from their marriage.
A second option lies in the creation of a private limited company in order to establish a tailor-made inheritance through the set-up of shares which are administered by the country in which they live in.
A third option might be the signing of the so-called ‘tontine’ clause with the downside being that it must be signed before or at the time of a property purchase in France, and that the clause is only valid for this very property.
Regardless of your situation, legal advice before signing any contracts is of utmost importance to avoid un-repairable consequences.
Your notary may help you with any information regarding your probate situation.
Article written by:
Jean-François Blet, Notaire
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