French inheritance law: EU contacts France over ‘possible breach’

French lawyers have widely criticised the 2021 forced heirship law, which affects the option for non-French people to use the law of another country

The European Commission has exchanged letters with France
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The European Commission is taking seriously a ‘possible breach of EU rules on succession’ by France in relation to a 2021 law affecting the option for non-French people to use the law of another country

It has exchanged letters with France and is considering its next steps.

Several people had submitted formal complaints to the Commission over the French law which seeks to enforce French forced heirship rights even where a testator had used EU law to choose the inheritance law of the country of their nationality to cover their estate.

What it means in practice is that a notaire must contact any children disadvantaged by a foreign law choice and ask if they wish to make a claim from any French assets.

The law was reportedly brought in to prevent women and girls being treated unequally in the case of a choice of Sharia law - but affects many foreign law wills.

An initial complaint was lodged by a Connexion reader from the south-west, followed up by others, which resulted in publication of an acknowledgement of multiple complaints on February 15, 2023.

Usually, the Commission takes a decision on how to proceed within one year unless a matter is especially complicated and it needs more time or information.

Yesterday, two weeks after the one-year mark, the Commission published an update, stating that it had assessed the complainants’ allegations that France’s law breaches EU law rights to choose the law of their nationality and, on December 11, had contacted the French authorities to gather additional information.

It said France responded on February 12, 2024, and the Commission is now assessing this response before deciding on the next steps.

This shows that the Commission is seriously considering the possibility that the French law represents a breach, although it has not yet opened formal ‘infringement proceedings’ against France.

What would happen for inheritance matters already being dealt with after a person’s death - or concluded - if the law is repealed is not clear.

Read more: What happens next if French inheritance law found to breach EU rule?

What does the 2021 law say?

The law seeks to enforce the ‘reserved portions’ for children provided for in French inheritance law. It says that notaires dealing with a person’s estate should offer children compensation out of any French-based assets if a legal system – such as England’s, or that of many US states – is chosen, allowing the estate to be left freely.

The ‘reserved portion’ is, for example, half of the estate in the case of a single child, two thirds in the case of two, and three-quarters in the case of three or more.

The 2021 law affects estates where:

  • The testator or at least one of his/her children was an EU citizen or was living habitually in the EU, and
  • Where the inheritance law chosen does not include any ‘reserved’ portion system for children.

The 2021 law is, specifically, article 24 of the ‘law supporting respect of the principles of the Republic’, which in turn added wording to article 919 of the Code Civil.

It is in force in relation to successions opened (dealt with after a death) since November 1, 2021.

French lawyers have criticised it

All French lawyers with whom The Connexion has discussed the 2021 law have criticised it.

They say it complicates inheritance matters for people who had made use of the EU regulation and is liable to make settling some estates more contentious. It also, many lawyers say, appears to be contrary to the intentions of the EU succession regulation, known as Brussels IV.

The regulation has been in force for successions opened since August 17, 2015 and many people have used it to choose the law of their country of nationality in a will.

Some lawyers believe the 2021 law will even fail in its original intention, said to have been to prevent women and girls being treated unequally in the case of a choice of Sharia law.

This is because some experts interpret Sharia as including a reserved portion for daughters, only the portion is half of what is reserved for a son.

Instead, the 2021 law appears to mostly affect people who chose laws from English-speaking countries. Many readers have expressed concerns about the uncertainty it has caused.

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