Tips for making a will in France without a notaire

We also cover ways to store your will securely and how foreigners can make different options to French residents

A view of an older woman signing a piece of paper
There are strict rules for writing a will if you do not go through a notaire in France
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Did you know that you can legally make your own will in France, without going through a notaire? Yet, the process must follow certain rules to be legally binding. We explain how to get it right.

A notaire is a legal public servant, who is a representative of the state. They typically offer legal advice and draw up valid legal documents for processes such as selling or buying property, solving a family dispute, and drawing up a marriage or Pacs contract.

Read more: 13 things you can do through a French notaire apart from buy a house

Drawing up a will means that you can specify who will inherit your assets in the event of your death.

Your will takes precedence over the default law that would apply without one, so for many people it may be particularly important.

For example, in France, children inherit set proportions of the estate unless the will states otherwise (notably, by electing the inheritance law of another country, if you are not exclusively French) and Pacs partners do not automatically inherit their partner’s assets unless the deceased's will specifies this.

Writing your own will is known as creating un testament olographe in France, which means a ‘written out’ (by hand) will. To be valid, it must follow strict rules.

'Olographe' wills: The essentials

The Civil Code (Article 970) sets out the most important rules, stating that a handwritten will “is not valid unless it is written in full, dated and signed by the testator”.

This means that you cannot:

  • Write the will on a computer or phone (it must be handwritten)

  • Record a will in audio or video form

  • Dictate the will to someone else to write, even if they hand write it

To be valid, a will must meet all three conditions:

  • Must be written in full by hand, by the person in question

  • Must be dated by the person

  • Must be signed by the person

To do this, a notaire is not needed (however, you may wish to use a notaire to store the will securely; see below).

In contrast to the rules above, there are relatively few requirements about the medium used to actually write the will.

In the past, wills written on the back of a bank statement or a shopping list have been accepted by the courts - as long as they were handwritten, dated and signed by the person in question. In one case, a judge even accepted a will written on the side of a washing machine…

Similarly, there are no rules on the type of ink or pen used. However, no matter the paper or pen, the will must still be perfectly legible and your handwriting recognisable. The latter could be examined, in the case of the will being called into question.

Be aware of French inheritance rules - and tax

Even if you do not use a notaire to write your will, this does not mean that you can write anything you like. It must still follow the rules of inheritance law.

For example, if you have children, be aware that under French law you should leave them set minimum portions of your estate. However, there are potential solutions for this - including if you are not exclusively French - opting clearly in the will for the inheritance law of the country of your nationality to apply instead. However, note that a 2021 French law has created complications regarding this rule.

It is important to note too that a change of inheritance law does not impact French inheritance taxation.

Read more: French inheritance law - EU contacts France over ‘possible breach

If you have no children, or once you have dealt with their portions, you can freely allocate anything remaining to other people inside or outside the family. However, do be aware that French inheritance tax is high when leaving to people other than close relatives.

Remember to change it if necessary

A will only takes effect if the writer dies. This means that while you are still alive, you can change it as often as you like. If you want to change your will, you can either:

  • Rewrite an entirely new will, which will cancel the previous one

  • Draw up a ‘codicil’ to your existing will, which must also be handwritten, dated and signed, by the same person

Consider asking a notaire to help store it

Make sure your family is aware of, and respects, your will.

If the will is lost or stolen your last wishes cannot be respected. Also, if it comes to light too late (after your estate has already been settled in another way) then a court is likely to order the will to take precedence and for the estate to be resettled, but this could take time, cause confrontation, and incur extra costs.

You could keep the will at home in a place where you are sure it would be found, however you could instead give it to a trusted relative for safekeeping

Otherwise, one way to make sure it is found - even if you do not use a notaire to draw up your will - is to call on one to store it securely.

It costs €125 to register a will, and €31.69 to keep it at the notaire’s office (there are no storage fees if you wrote your will with assistance from the notaire in the first place)

The notaire will then register it with the Fichier central des dispositions de dernières volontés (central file for last wills and testaments).

In the event of your death, the notaire dealing with the estate will consult this file to find out whether the deceased had drawn up a will, and where it is kept.

Registering a will does not mean you cannot later make changes upon request; you just need to ask the notaire storing the will to reopen it, and then store the new one.

More about the rules around wills and inheritance in general in France can be found in our French Inheritance Law downloadable help guide, available here for €14.50.

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