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How death benefits work for family of self-employed workers in France

We explain what a typical lump sum payout might amount to, as well as what happens in the case of salaried people and civil servants, and how to claim

The payouts can reach tens of thousands of euros Pic: thodonal88 / Shutterstock

Lump sum death benefits are available in France for husbands, wives and Pacs partners of some independent workers, and can reach tens of thousands of euros.

Salaried workers and fonctionnaires are also entitled to the benefits.

However, one peculiarity of the system is that families of salaried workers, usually very well protected, get the relatively smallest lump sums.

Read more: Social charges, sick leave, SMIC: Change for workers in France in 2023

Salaried workers

The capital décès (death benefit) for salaried workers is €3,539 and is paid as long as, in the three months before death, the deceased was either in employment, unemployed and receiving unemployment benefit, off work due to a work accident or job-related illness with a 66.6% disability, or receiving a pension d’invalidité.

The money is paid out by the local Cpam or, for farmers and agricultural workers, the MSA.

Who gets the money is decided in the first instance by finding out if there are bénéficiaires prioritaires who were financially dependent on the deceased.

These can include the spouse or Pacs partner of the deceased, children, and parents or grandparents. Priority is given in that order.

If there are several bénéficiaires prioritaires of the same ‘rank’, such as children, the money is divided equally among them.

Where there are no bénéficiaires prioritaires, or if they have not made a request for the lump sum in the month after the death, the money is allocated first to the deceased’s spouse/Pacs partner (as long as there is not a legal separation), then to children, and finally to parents/grandparents.

Requests for the lump sum, if you are a bénéficiaire prioritaire, have to be made in the month after the death.

Where there are no bénéficiaires prioritaires, the request can be made up to two years after the death.

Independent workers

For independent workers, it is not so straightforward – death benefits are usually linked to the retirement fund they pay into, and vary considerably.

They are also linked to widow or widower pensions.

Read more: Insurance clarified for self-employed workers in France

An example is given by Cipav, the pensions caisse for liberal professions (doctors and nurses outside the hospital system, lawyers, and various freelancers).

It gives death benefits according to the level people pay into their retirement. 

For the benefit to be paid out, the deceased must have been up to date with payments for the past three months.

For the lowest level of retirement subscription, the lump sum is €15,780 to a spouse or Pacs partner or child under the age of 21, accompanied by an annual pension for the partner until the age of 60 of €1,578.

For the middle level subscription, this rises to a lump sum of €47,340 and pension of €4,734, and for the highest level, the lump sum is €78,900 and the pension €7,890.

Artisans, independent shopkeepers or factory owners have death benefit lump sums calculated according to a government formula of 20% of the social security ceiling in the year of death. In 2022, it was €8,227.

In most cases, the caisse will have asked beforehand for the person to nominate someone, usually a spouse, on a special form.

If no one is nominated, then a claim, which will be ranked much like claims for salaried workers, can be lodged with the caisse.

People with independent worker pensions also have death benefit lump sums in the French system, calculated at 8% of the social security ceiling, equal to €3,290 in 2022.

French civil servants

For titled fonctionnaires, the full death benefit is available for those who die in service, but the amount is reduced if they are still working after the retirement age of 62.

It is paid out first to children under 21 who are not paying impôt sur le revenu, then to the spouse or Pacs partner, as long as they have been married or Pacsed for two years.

The ratio is one third for the partner and two-thirds to the children.

The amount paid is more than for salaried workers, and equivalent to the annual salary of the calendar year before death.

If the deceased is over 62 and not retired, the amount is a quarter of their annual salary.

Where they did not have fonctionnaire status but were employed as an agent d’état, the sum is equal to the last 12 months’ wages.

Sums paid from abroad

Where the deceased formerly worked and paid into another country’s social security system, the survivor may also be eligible for help from that country.

In the case of UK pensioner couples, when one member dies, the other may be eligible for a state pension increase and/or a lump sum.

The rules depend on when you and your partner married and reached state pension age. 

The International Pension Centre can help.

Survivors under pension age may get the UK’s Bereavement Support Payment.

Some private pensions also pay out, depending on the contract details.

These sums would be declarable to France for income tax. 

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