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French law inheritance arrangements?

My wife and I are British residents who own a holiday flat in southern France which we have not included in wills drawn up in England. We assume, by default, French inheritance rules will apply to this property after our deaths. If that is the case, our two daughters should inherit but we want our only grandchild to inherit instead. Can we make such arrangements entirely within French law?

Unless your existing will is drafted to exclude France, it would apply to your respective shares of the French estate.

I am assuming there is no automatic inheritance by a surviving spouse (such as via a Tontine clause, universal community marriage regime, or SCI ownership).

If the will has no specific clause dealing with the French property, then it would pass to the residuary beneficiaries (usually the main beneficiaries). 

Depending upon its drafting, it may be possible to consider that the UK will is an election of English law if executed prior to August 17 2015 (when EU Succession Regulation took effect).

If the will is not drafted to suggest an election of English law should apply, then French law would apply.

The will should be reviewed by a specialist, and you would probably be best served by having an additional will dealing specifically with your French estate, so as to avoid the potential problems that your existing UK will may cause.

As to leaving the French flat to your grandchild, this is possible by an election of English law, ideally under a carefully drafted UK will limited to French assets, without referring to trusts or trustees.

The tax consequences of a grandchild inheriting directly are that they get a paltry allowance of €1,594, and tax on a sliding scale from 5% to 45% above that. 

If the flat is left to a child, and the child is unable or unwilling to inherit, then their child (the grandchild) can benefit from the €100,000 child exemption in place of their parent.

The wording to achieve this is specific and expert advice must be sought.

Question answered by Barbara Heslop of Heslop & Platt answers a reader query

Tel: +44 (0)113 393 1930 -

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