New EU inheritance rules now in force

As of today other countries’ inheritance laws can apply in France if expats opt for them in their will

A LONG-AWAITED change in European inheritance rules giving people the chance to opt for the law of the country of their nationality – and not that of France - comes into force today.

As of today, if a person dies in France having made a will in which they selected the law of their nationality to apply to their whole estate, then it will be this law – for example English or Scottish, or American – which will apply, overriding the more inflexible French rules on heirs’ reserved portions.

Based on the latest information given to Connexion, the change can also benefit people living outside France who have holiday property here.

This is likely to be especially interesting for people with more complex family situations, such as having children from more than one marriage.

In other cases the ordinary French rules may be adequate for your wishes, or it may be preferable to make use of one of the various French legal mechanisms which exist, for example, to protect a surviving spouse.

Do also be aware that even under English law, you cannot necessarily leave your estate entirely to whoever you want, as was highlighted in a recent Court of Appeal ruling which gave a woman a third share in her mother’s estate despite the fact her mother had disinherited her in favour of animal charities (see September’s paper for more on this).

Also bear in mind that French law may offer solutions, avoiding potential complications with using laws of another country (such as the UK) with which many French notaires will be unfamiliar.

It should also be borne in mind that the new inheritance regulation does not affect rules relating to French inheritance tax – these remain the same.

The regulation in force today also creates a new ‘default’ rule on cross-border inheritance, which is that where no choice is expressed in a will, the law of the country of last residence applies to the whole estate.

For detailed information about the new regulation as well as other inheritance issues for people living in France (or owning property here), our new French Inheritance Law helpguide is available to buy, either as a printed version posted out or as a PDF download, here: Helpguides.