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What are the rules for a handwritten will in France?

John Kitching of French Law Consultancy answers a reader query

person writing on paper

The Civil Code lays out rules for the validity of handwritten wills Pic: MongPro | Shutterstock

Reader question: How do I make a French will for it to be legal? I have heard people write out their wills like a letter but I assume I have to have it witnessed by a notaire?

French olographe (ie. handwritten) wills are the most common type in France.

They are easily administered and recognised by a notaire, without the need for affidavits of validity and due execution, as would be required for a UK will.

The Civil Code says such a will is only valid if it is entirely written in the testator’s handwriting, signed and dated. It must also be clear that it is intended to be a will (testament).

The testator must handwrite their own will on a blank piece of paper. Do not type it out or sign a printed copy.

It must not have any other person’s mark or handwriting as this can invalidate it.

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

There is no requirement for witnesses and it must have no signatures on it other than the testator’s.

You do not need a notaire to witness it but you can ask one to register it for you for safe keeping, so it is easy to locate on death.

If you need more than one side of paper, it is safest to write on the reverse page, so pages do not go missing.

Number each page and sign and date the foot of each.

The difficulty is in understanding what to write, to whom to leave the estate, if you want substitute beneficiaries (in case of a named person dying before you, or refusing), understanding whether your wishes are permitted under French law, and what the tax and practical implications are.

Note that if signed in the UK, by a non-French national, it will be fine for French real estate, but not necessarily for other French property.

We would also not recommend using a French will for UK assets.

It can be valid in the UK but it is complicated to get the probate registry to accept the French handwritten will as valid.

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