What happens to my estate in France if I do not make a will?

If France is your permanent habitual residence, French intestacy law will be applied if you die without a will 

18 January 2021
By Connexion journalist

Reader question: What will happen to my estate if I do not make a will? I am British, married, and live in France with a son in the UK and a stepdaughter in America.

If you die without a will, with France being your permanent habitual residence, France will apply French intestacy law – dévolution légale – to determine who inherits your estate.

If you have a marriage regime, this will indicate which assets your spouse inherits.

For example, a French universal community regime with an attribution clause would allow your surviving spouse to inherit the estate.

If you do not have such a regime and were married in the UK, and your son is from your existing marriage, your wife will be given a choice of taking one quarter of your estate or taking a life interest (usufruit) in your estate.

A usufruit gives the right to live in a property for life or to receive rental income from it.

If your son is not from your current marriage, then your spouse only gets to inherit a quarter of the estate. Your bloodline son takes the rest of the estate, ie. three-quarters in full ownership, or the whole of the “bare” ownership of the estate, which turns into full ownership on the subsequent death of your wife.

Your stepdaughter has no inheritance rights on intestacy, unless you have adopted her.

If you have immovable property outside France, the laws of that country would apply to those assets.

French intestacy law would apply to everything else in your estate, including foreign bank accounts.

You could execute a will and decide to whom to leave your estate and, as you are British, you can elect UK law (English and Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish) to apply to your estate, which gives you the freedom to leave it as you wish.

You should seek expert advice on this, though, as a poorly-drafted will might not reflect your wishes, may result in tax problems, and can be challenged – which becomes more likely if you were to elect the law of your nationality in order to disinherit someone.

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