EU ruling on French inheritance law drags due to volume of complaints

Many British and American people in France face uncertainty over their wills due to 2021 French law

A line of EU flags in front of the European Commission in Brussels
The European Commission’s decision over the legality of the French law has has been pending for over a year

It is taking longer than usual for the European Commission to rule on the legality of France’s 2021 inheritance law on foreign wills and disinherited children due to the volume of complaints received, EU sources say.

After The Connexion reported that a reader from Tarn had made a complaint in December 2022, several other complaints were received and grouped.

The Com­mission acknowledged this on February 15, 2023.

Usually, a decision on whether there has been a breach of EU law – and if a formal infringement procedure should start – is taken within a year.

It can, however, take longer if a matter is “especially complex”.

There has been no official update since a statement published on February 29 this year .

This says that following a preliminary assessment of the claims, the Commission sought further information from the French authorities on December 11, 2023. It received a response on February 12 and is still assessing this.

We understand that the delay relates to the very high number of complaints received.

To obtain a full picture, officials are checking the facts of each complaint and the legal issues surrounding them.

English-speakers dissatisfied with law and frustrated by delay

Many English-speakers in France – and their French lawyers – are dissatisfied with the 2021 law. It seeks to impose French inheritance law rules about children’s ‘reserved por­tions’ even when people use EU law to opt for the law of their nationality to apply.

The law was reportedly brought in with the aim of protecting daughters under Sharia law.

It has caused uncertainty for people who wrote wills using these rights. Having children from a previous marriage and wishing to protect the surviving spouse is a common reason for invoking the EU rule.

The original complainant, who is in her 70s and is her husband’s second wife, said the couple had drawn up wills that invoked English law to leave her more than is allowed under reserved portion rules.

“It is frustrating,” she said. “Perhaps when France tossed the ball back to the EU, it awarded itself another 12 months?”

No official timeframe

There are no official details on the timeframe the Com­­mission is now working to, but its website suggests that where ‘informal dialogue’ is held with a country before an official infringement is launched, it would typically have concluded by now. 

An exception is where further letters have to be exchanged, in which case they aim to wrap up the ‘dialogue’ in a total of nine months.

A formal infringement procedure also begins with further chances for the country to explain itself.