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Do we need wills in England and France?

We have just started the procedure of having wills drawn up by our local notaire and have asked for them to be administered under English law. We do not own any property in the UK but have bank and NS&I accounts there.We understand that the money in these accounts will be covered by our new wills but we are unclear as to how our beneficiaries will access these funds after our deaths. Do we need English wills to cover the UK funds? What about probate? What will our beneficiaries need to do?  F.A

I would query whether or not there is actually a good reason to elect English law.

The usual reason Britons resident in France decide to elect the law of their nationality is to bypass the French forced heirship rules, which give children (natural or adopted but excluding stepchildren) a reserved right to inherit from their parent(s).

If you do not elect the law of your nationality, then the law of your habitual residence (ie. French law) will apply to your worldwide estate. Had there been any immovable property (a house or flat) in England or Wales, then English and Welsh law would apply to it.

However, assuming you do have a specific reason for wishing to elect English law to govern your estate, then given that you have assets in two countries, we advise you draw up two wills each – one for the UK and one for France.

Both jurisdictions will want the original will to be registered with them. Where there is only one will, it can sometimes create problems. Careful drafting is essential to make sure one does not revoke and/or contradict the other.

Your French wills should include an express election of English law pursuant to the EU Succession Regulation but should be restricted to your French assets (your house, your French bank account, etc).

There should not be any reference to an English-style trust and if you wish to name an executor, he/she should be the same person as your named beneficiary to avoid having to resolve potential inheritance tax complications.

In terms of your UK movable assets (bank account and NS&I accounts), you should each make an English will, dealing solely with these.

Whatever will or wills is/are in place at the point of death, the UK financial institution will tell you whether a grant of probate is required or not.

Generally, if the value of the UK assets exceeds £5,000, then a grant is required, but this will depend on the policy of each financial institution.

Some UK banks will waive the requirement for probate if the account balance is less than £25,000.

If a grant of probate is required for the funds to be released, then the original will, relating to the UK assets, has to be sent to the UK Probate Registry with a probate application.

The executor named in the will has to sign an oath for executors witnessed by a solicitor or a commissioner for oaths.

This can be arranged via a UK wills and probate solicitor, or by contacting the Probate Registry in person.

There is a fee for the probate application and, once approved, the Probate Registry issues the grant of probate.

The UK financial institution will release funds to the named executor on production of a sealed copy of the grant of probate. Any funds in the UK need to be notified to the notaire in France and, if applicable, taxed in France.

They may also be taxed in the UK. If inheritance tax is due, some of this may be offset under the double taxation treaty between the UK and France.

Specialist advice should always be sought to ensure wills are correctly drafted and executed.


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

Tel: +44 (0)113 393 1930 -

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