Reader Question: What will happen to my estate if I do not make a will in France?
If you do not make a will, your estate will be dealt with in different ways depending on your family situation.
If you have a spouse and children, everything will be divided among them. Of your family does not look quite like this, your estate will be left to different relatives.
However, there are several issues to consider.
Firstly, if you are married, then the question of your marriage regime comes into play so as to determine what your estate will actually consist of after your death and whether some property automatically becomes the property of your spouse and is therefore outside your estate.
A home may also go automatically to another person if you bought it together inserting a tontine clause to that effect.
Secondly, there are set ‘intestacy’ rules as to who inherits a person’s estate in the absence of a will.
Finally, a surviving spouse or civil partner has certain rights to stay in the family home.
Whether you are aware of if or not, all married couples in France have a ‘matrimonial regime’, which determines how assets are owned within the marriage.
In the case of people married in France the default is the régime de la communauté légale réduite aux acquêts (literally: community regime reduced to acquisitions). In this case each spouse ‘takes back’ the possessions that they owned before their wedding, and any that they have been gifted or have inherited during the marriage.
However, possessions and funds acquired during the marriage are owned in common, even if they were bought or earned only by one spouse. In this case, the deceased spouse’s estate will include all of their own possessions from before their wedding and half of the estate shared during their marriage.
If you married under the régime de la séparation de biens, (which will be the case for many people who were married in the UK, for example, though there are exceptions) there are no possessions that are automatically shared, so the deceased person’s estate will include everything that they earned or bought themselves.
Finally if the couple have a communauté universelle regime, which has to be opted for with help from a notaire, all possessions acquired during the marriage are owned in common, and items owned before may be ‘brought into’ the regime if this is agreed when setting up the regime.
What happens to the estate in the case of children and a surviving spouse?
If you share all of your children with your spouse, the amount that they will inherit will depend on what your husband or wife decides to do.
They can decide to keep the whole estate en usufruit (a lifetime interest) or keep a quarter of it en pleine propriété (in full ownership).
If the spouse opts to hold the estate en usufruit, the children will inherit the property, money etc. in equal parts en nue-propriété, meaning that the spouse can have lifetime benefit from it (live in a house or rent it out, take interest from investments…) but cannot sell anything. It will then go to the children after the surviving spouse’s death.
The children therefore cannot do anything with the estate in the immediate future, although they will owe inheritance tax if the total value of their inheritance exceeds €100,000 (note that nue-propriété ownership is discounted in value compared to full ownership).
If the surviving parent chooses to keep a quarter of the estate en pleine propriété, the children will share the remaining three quarters between them equally.
If, on the other hand, you have children born from different relationships, your current spouse has the right to a quarter of your succession en pleine propriété, without the usufruit option, and the children will share the remaining three quarters between them.
Step-children are not legally entitled to anything, but if your spouse keeps a quarter of your estate this property may go to them on the spouse’s death.
If you do not have children and have a surviving spouse
If you have no children and no surviving parents, your spouse will inherit everything.
If, however, you do have both parents still living, your spouse will get half of your estate, and your parents will have a quarter each.
If you have one parent still alive, your spouse will get three quarters of your estate and your parent will inherit the remaining quarter.
Parents also have a right to take back property they gave you before you died.
If you are not married
If you have a partner but are not married, they are not entitled to anything, even if you are pacsed.
If you are unmarried and have children, your whole estate will go to them, being divided equally among them.
And if you have no children, your estate will be divided equally between your parents and siblings.
If you have no surviving parents, your siblings will inherit everything between them.
Who else could inherit in the case of no will?
Bearing in mind the above points, there is a legal order of succession where someone has no surviving spouse, with each category inheriting everything if they are present. The estate is divided equally between the father and mother’s side of the family.
- Uncles and aunts
- …and if none then the property goes to the state.
If you have grandchildren
Normally, it would be your spouse and children who inherit everything, and your grandchildren would not be allocated anything.
However, if your child is deceased and their children are living, they will inherit in their parent’s place.
This rule is also applied to great-grandchildren, who can only inherit if their parent and grandparent – your child – are dead.
Note that children and grandchildren of siblings can also inherit in their place.