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How can I leave my French property to my second wife?

Recent changes to French inheritance law make it more difficult to leave French assets to a partner when you have children from a previous marriage

Step-children can complicate changes to your will, but there are options. We look at what they are Pic: AnnaStills / Shutterstock

Reader question: I am a resident of France, I am married to my second wife and have four children by a previous marriage. Our home in France is in my sole name. I want to leave all my assets to my present wife. Can this be done under a régime de la communauté universelle?

The communauté universelle marriage regime can be used to place French assets into the marriage regime. 

These become assets of the marriage rather than belonging to either spouse. 

On the death of the first spouse, the marriage ends, and the surviving spouse takes those assets. But as this has the potential to disinherit children, the notaire will have to inform them you are making this change and they have the right to object to it. 

If the children are from the marriage, French law will expect them to inherit their legal share on the second death from their surviving parent, so they may consent to the regime. 

However, regarding children from outside the marriage as here, if their step-parent inherits, they have no legal right to inherit on her death (and if they inherit under a will, they face 60% tax). 

As such, they may well object to the change. 

Your options

One way to protect your wife would be to investigate possible ways to restructure the home’s ownership. 

Otherwise, you could sell and buy another, for example, making sure it is in both your names. 

You could perhaps take the life interest, while she has the remaining legal ownership. Inserting a tontine clause is another option, allowing a surviving partner to take ownership. 

However, these all incur significant fees for a notaire to carry out the formalities. 

Until recently, foreigners could, by an EU law, opt to leave their estate under their home country’s laws if they are more flexible. A 2021 French inheritance law means this is no longer reliable. 

Watch for updates on The Connexion’s website as it may face legal challenges.

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

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