Can a French estate be left to an unmarried partner?

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

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I live in France and want to leave my estate to my concubin. Can I use the EU inheritance regulation to do this?


This question can broadly apply to anybody wanting to leave an estate to an unmarried partner. A concubin is a person in concubinage – the state of two unmarried people who live together in a situation similar to a marriage.

The EU Succession Regulation allows a testator (the person making their will) to elect the law of their nationality to apply to their estate. So, if the testator’s nationality is English, they can elect to apply English law. English law does not have reserved (obligatory) heirs, such as children or spouses, so a testator can leave their estate to whoever they wish.

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There can, however, be a legal challenge if persons are financially dependent on the testator and have not been adequately provided for. If a testator does not have children, French law does not prevent them leaving their estate to whoever they like. If there is a spouse, and they are not to inherit, they should be specifically excluded. However, if you have an unmarried partner, including a Pacs (civil) partner, they will inherit only if you leave them a share of your estate in your will.

French inheritance tax applies, though, which will impose 60% tax on anything passing to an unmarried non-Pacsed partner, save for an allowance of €1,594 – even if English law has been elected. A spouse or registered civil partner, or Pacs partner, is exempt from French inheritance tax.

The entitlement to inherit on intestacy as a spouse, or under French law as a conjoint, applies only to married couples, not to Pacs couples. In summary, you can leave your estate to your unmarried partner under French law if there are no children, or using English law if there are children. But you must use a will, and they will face 60% inheritance tax.

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