Our concern is that our property may not be suitable for an elderly person. Can the survivor sell it and use the sale proceeds to purchase another, or would he or she be limited to 50% of the proceeds?
Barbara Heslop of Heslop and Platt, solicitors, replies:
Under French law, assuming you own the property half each en indivision (in equal shared ownership) at the time of the first death the surviving spouse will automatically be entitled to inherit one quarter of the deceased’s half of the property, your three daughters will inherit the other three-quarters in equal shares. This means the surviving spouse will own five-eighths of the property.
As the property is your principal residence, the surviving spouse will also have an automatic right to remain there for the rest of his/her life. This is initially known as un droit temporaire au logement - this lasts for the first 12 months following the death of the first spouse - after which the survivor can choose to convert this right into a permanent right of occupation, known as un droit viager.
If the surviving spouse wanted to sell the property and buy something more suitable instead, provided your daughters agreed, the value of their interests could be reflected in the new property.
However, your daughters could, if they wish, insist on being paid an amount equivalent to the value of their interests from the sale proceeds.
The alternative is that you adopt a French marriage regime known as communauté universelle. By doing this you could place the French property in “community of ownership”, meaning that on the death of the first spouse, the property will pass in its entirety to the survivor. This involves the signature of a change of marriage regime deed in front of a notaire, for a fee of €500-1,000.
You could also consider the option of invoking the EU inheritance regulation in a will to choose UK law.