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Can I write my own will in English in France?

Whatever the language requirements a notaire is not necessarily needed but certain rules must be followed

Handwritten wills must not include any element printed via a typewriter / computer Pic: fizkes / Shutterstock

Reader Question: Is it possible to write my own will in France, or do I need a notaire? Can I write it in English or does it need to be in French?

There are a number of conditions a will must fulfil in France to be valid, ranging from how it is written to the health of the person authoring it.

Of course, wills can be drawn up with the assistance of a notaire, but it is possible to write your own, known as a testament olographe.

The general rules for making sure a will of this type is valid are derived from Article 970 of the French civil code. 

They state that a will of this type “is not valid unless it is written in full, dated and signed by the testator.” 

Rules for the document

By ‘written in full’, this means the document must be completely written by hand, including the contents of the will, the date (day, month, and year), and the signature. 

Typewriters, computers, tablets, and phones, cannot be used. If you have difficulty writing, a third party can hand-write the contents of the will, however you must still sign and date it yourself. 

If you cannot do this then having a will drawn up by a notaire is the best option for you. 

In addition, the will must be dated correctly. French judges have been known to accept wills without a date when other pieces of proof (a photo, witnesses, etc) can prove when the document was written, however this is not guaranteed.

It is possible to write the document in a foreign language (such as English), and it will still be valid if all of the other points are followed correctly. 

However the notaire dealing with your estate will have to obtain an official sworn translation of it after you die, if they are not English-speaking. 

As it is most likely to be a French notaire who would be dealing with your estate you may wish to write it in French if possible.

Note that the will must also make its nature clear, for example, in French you may begin it with: Ceci est mon testament (this is my will).

Anyone designated in it must also be very clearly identified, for example, ‘I leave my house to my brother Robert Jones, of 3 High Street, Barnsley’, as opposed to ‘I leave my house to Bob’. 

A will should be stored in a safe place where it can be found upon your death (or where someone close to you knows where to find it).

It does not need to be kept with a notaire (who will register it), although this is an option if you believe this is safer. 

The author of the will must be in sound mind 

The writer of the document must be of ‘sound mind’ (sain d'esprit), as the rules stated in Article 901 of the Civil Code regarding giving gifts also apply to handwritten wills. 

They must also have capacité juridique, meaning control over their own affairs; those over the age of 18 generally have this power by default. 

Wills can become complex in certain cases so if you are unsure on any matters you should consult a notaire. 

Also, where you have property in more than one country, some lawyers suggest having a separate will relating to each.

Related articles 

How do I make and register a ‘living will' in France?

‘Greedy families pushing an assisted death in France is nonsense’

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