What happens to my French family home if I do not make a will?

We look at what the authorities will do with the property of a deceased person who left no instructions

We look at what happens to your family home if you do not make a will
Published Last updated

Reader Question: If I do not make a will, what will happen to my family home in France?

There are two elements to this - firstly who will own the property and, secondly, who may have a right to live in it either for a limited period or for life.

If the home was jointly owned by you and your spouse or another person then, of course, they will still own their share.

If legal arrangements are in place to protect a surviving spouse, such as a ‘community’ marriage regime which includes the home or a tontine clause, then the ownership will go to them regardless of whether there is a will or not.

Otherwise, it will depend on ‘intestacy’ rules as to who inherits all or part of the home.

Read more: What happens to my French estate if I do not make any plans?

French law is also protective of spouses, in particular, in terms of the right to continue living in the family home regardless of who actually owns it. Note that this is not the same as legal ownership of the usufruit, which includes the right to rent it out and have the income to it.

If you are married

If you are married, your surviving spouse is entitled to stay in your main home with your furniture for a year, even if you are only tenants (the rent being taken out of your estate).

Your spouse can ask to stay in the property for the rest of their life at the end of this period but will only be able to live there, not sell or rent it out. They should speak to the notaire who is dealing with the estate about this.

In addition, their use of the home for life has a value that can be calculated and it will come out of their inheritance from your estate. However, if the value of using the property exceeds their proportion of the inheritance, no compensation is due to the other heirs.

This only really becomes an issue when the deceased person has children from another relationship and thus the spouse does not have usufruit (lifetime use) rights under the intestacy rules (full usufruit option is only available in the case of intestacy if the children are from the marriage only).

If you have a Pacs

If you have a Pacs or equivalent foreign partnership with your partner, they do not have any automatic inheritance rights if you do not make a will.

Your partner will only be able to stay in the property for 12 months after your death. If you bought the property between you, your partner will only have a legal right to the half of its value that is under their name.

If you have an informal partner

The same goes for if you are survived by a partner with whom you have no legal contract. If you bought the property together they will get their half.

However, if you have children together and they are under 18, it is possible for the partner to request leave from a judge to stay in the property and put off the share out of the estate with regard to the property.

Related articles

What is the best way of dividing assets in a French will?

What could you do to ease effects of France’s 2021 inheritance law?