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Which relatives have a right to inherit in France?

French law gives children an automatic right to inherit part of their parent’s estate, but what happens when there are no children?

We look at who can inherit your estate in France Pic: JP WALLET / Shutterstock

Reader question: I would like to know if, in the absence of children and parents, other relatives such as siblings have automatic rights to inherit from an estate or is a person free to dispose of their estate as they wish? 

The French reserved heir rules set out under Articles 912 and 913 of the French Civil Code are often misunderstood. 

Quite a few clients have asked whether the eldest child inherits the whole estate, or whether the eldest male takes priority over sisters and mother, which are concepts dating back to Roman law. 

The reserved heirs under French inheritance rules in 2023 are children of the deceased, and a surviving spouse also has some rights to the estate (depending on which children or relatives survive). 

The term ‘children’ includes bloodline children of the deceased, even if estranged, and fully adopted children. 

It does not include stepchildren, unless fully adopted. 

If there are no children or spouse, then you are free to leave the estate to whoever you wish. 

It is worth noting that French inheritance tax would apply, and the more distant the relation, the lower the tax free allowance, and the higher the rate of tax. Eg: 

  • Siblings: Tax-free allowance of €15,932, followed by inheritance tax on the next €24,430 at 35%, and 45% tax above that;
  • Niece/nephew: Tax-free allowance of €7,967 each, followed by a 55% tax rate; 
  • Non-relative: Tax-free allowance of €1,594; followed by a tax at 60%. 

I recommend seeking professional advice to assist with the drafting of any will to ensure that you leave your estate as intended, and as efficiently as possible. 

I have seen many homemade wills that have inadvertently created considerably complicated and expensive problems.

Author: John Kitching, French Law Consultancy. French Law Consultancy provides French legal advice.

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