Reader Question: A French woman with an adult French son in the UK from a previous marriage is now married to an Englishman, who has an adult English daughter in the UK from a previous marriage. They reside in France, are renting and only own a car and their furniture, with no assets in the UK. They have English wills which state they want everything to go to the surviving spouse. On the death of one spouse, does this UK will stand? Is a French solicitor needed?
If the couple rent their property and have very little else, there is unlikely to be complex estate administration. However, it may still be sensible to use a notaire.
Under the EU Succession Regulation, the applicable law is that of the state in which a person lived at the time of death. This would mean French law would apply.
Consequently, even though the English wills leave everything to the survivor, the couple would each be bound to leave at least half of their own share to their natural child.
However, the regulation also states that a person can select the law of their nationality to govern worldwide succession.
Thus, the British man could choose English law, but not the French woman (unless she had dual nationality in the UK).
In addition, a recent French law potentially gives rights to both children to claim against their respective parent’s estate if they were to leave everything to the surviving spouse.
The couple should also consider if they really want to leave everything to their spouse. While there is no inheritance tax on what they leave to a surviving spouse, on the death of the second spouse a preferential inheritance tax regime applies if he or she leaves everything to their natural child: an initial tax-free amount of €100,000, with tax being applied at rates starting at 5%.
If they leave anything to their stepchild, the tax-free allowance is a paltry €1,594, with a flat rate of 60% inheritance tax after that.
This reader question was answered by Matthew Cameron of Ashtons Legal