I live alone, what happens to my French estate when I die?

There are a number of required tasks which must be undertaken following a death

Making a will lets family and friends ensure your wishes are met

Reader Question: I have lived alone in France since my wife’s death. In the event of my death there is no partner or any relative in France to assume the role of responsibility in the case of my death. It is not clear to me how the disposition of my property or personal effects would be managed.

When someone dies in France, there are several administrative tasks to undertake in the days following the death, as well as carrying out the terms of the will. 

The death should be registered and the relevant government and financial institutions should be informed. 

If someone dies in a hospital or in a retirement home, then the staff there can take charge of registering it. 

Read more: What are the immediate steps to take after a death in France?

If someone dies at home and there are no relatives living in the country, there are still some options for the relatives living elsewhere. 

They can try to contact a neighbour or a friend living nearby for help, or contact the local mairie or local police, who may have someone who can assist. 

It is also worth contacting the consulate of your country, as they sometimes send someone to liaise with French officials. 

Funeral preparations

If you do not have any relatives and have not given any funeral instructions, French law states that: “The mayor or, failing that, the representative of the state, shall urgently ensure that all deceased persons are buried and interred without distinction of religion or belief.”

The cost of this will either be taken from your estate or the state will pay for it if there is no other option. 

However, if you are worried about these tasks, you can take out a funeral plan. Parties offering these include insurance companies, banks and funeral directors. 

There are, in theory, financial penalties for a funeral being held outside the usual time limits, or a registering the death late, but honorary avocat Gerard Barron told The Connexion that these are minor offences which he has never seen enforced, especially in cases of relatives living abroad.

Read more: French wills and inheritance – what if we die together with no executor?

Put a will in place

French wills can be registered with a notaire. The notaire in this case takes the role of executor for administration of a French estate but relies on information from people close to the deceased. 

The will itself can be drawn up with a notaire’s help in which you can name executors, but you can also make your own handwritten will. It is recommended, however, to tell your executors or potential beneficiaries about the will and where the original is stored. You may want to have it translated by a certified translator to help make things easier. 

If beneficiaries cannot be contacted after you die, local neighbours and friends may liaise with the mairie to help. 

In any case, we suggest speaking to a notaire and relatives or friends about your wishes.