Reader question: My second husband has died and, under French law, I understand that when I die, my two stepchildren are entitled to half the sale price of the house I live in, with the other half going to my two children. My stepchildren have had no contact with me for 20 years and have not paid anything towards the upkeep. Under French law, I am essentially a lodger with the children’s permission, paying all my outgoings. Surely a surviving spouse can choose what they want to happen when they die?
It is not necessarily the case that your stepchildren have a right to half of the house after your death. Some or all of your late husband’s share of the property might pass to you as an inheritance from him.
Your stepchildren would have no right to that, so whatever you might have inherited from your husband should pass eventually to your own children.
More details are necessary before we could explain exactly what will have happened to your late husband’s share, and what could happen when you die. Indeed, on a general basis, the possibilities for what could have happened already will vary, from you becoming the absolute owner of the property with nothing passing to your stepchildren to those two inheriting all their father’s share such that none would pass to you.
It is presumably this last possibility that you understand to be the case. Even so, you may yet take the benefit of a life interest or residency rights endowed upon a spouse. If so, you would not be living ‘as a lodger’ subject to the children’s good grace.
Take professional advice. There are various ways to help people plan for how their estate will pass on their death. They do, though, require planning at the earliest possible moment: if the best option would have been a tontine clause in the ownership deeds, then the only time this would have been possible was when the French house was first purchased.
This reader question was answered by Matthew Cameron of Ashtons Legal