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Are legacies to churches exempt from French inheritance tax?

In our monthly column Legal Notes, reader questions are answered and explained.

19 August 2020
By Heslop & Platt

Inheritance tax exemption for churches

My wife and I are residents in France. We have a will electing English law. Most of our assets are in the UK. We are leaving charitable legacies to UK-registered charities, a US charity, and French associations, mostly for crisis relief but also including a church. Can our UK solicitor make all the legacy payments, or at least the non-French ones?

If you die with your usual permanent residence in France, your worldwide estate is assessed for inheritance tax in France, including legacies to charities outside of France. The notaire is in charge of the administration of the estate, but would liaise with the executors and beneficiaries.

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Legacies to churches in France are generally exempt from inheritance tax under CGI article 795-10, as associations culturelles but it is always safest to contact them to check. A charity outside France needs to demonstrate it would meet the requirements of a French charity, had it been set up in France. It must also provide supporting financial, structural and administrative details. If it is then accepted that the foreign charity would meet the test of a French charity, it may be agreed that it should be exempt from inheritance tax. 

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However, any exemption depends on whether there is a treaty agreeing equal tax treatment for charities between the two countries. The relevant tax treaty for the US is the treaty of November 24, 1978. Article 10 addresses mutual charitable exemptions.

The relevant tax treaty for the UK is the treaty of June 21, 1963. Unfortunately, the UK drafting was not as thorough. It does not specifically address the tax treatment of charities.

For EU and EEA members, there is mutual charitable tax treatment, but as a non-EU/EEA member, it is not certain a UK charity would be allowed a tax exemption. The notaire in charge of the overall estate is likely to require the assistance of a UK solicitor to administer the UK estate.

Tel: +44 (0)113 393 1930

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