French Wills & Testaments Law in France
Whilst the applicable law relating to succession matters might be affected both by the « domicile » (a complex legal concept under French Law) of the deceased as well as by the country in which assets are found at the date of death, French Law will automatically be applicable to real property (houses, land etc) situated on French territory.
However if the real property is owned by a company, then (depending on a number of criteria relating to movable property generally) it is possible that French Inheritance Law may not be applicable to the part of the estate which holds the shares if they are not held in France by French residents.
It may therefore be appropriate to envisage a separate will covering those assets which are held on French territory and it would be advisable to arrange for this will to be lodged with the French National Registry of Last Wills and Testaments in order to avoid difficulty in finding it were the person concerned to be living outside France at the moment of his or her death.
It should also be noted that French Inheritance law is notoriously complicated and despite recent changes remains based on fundamentally different principles from those under common-law systems.
Two areas of French Law worthy of particular note are
– first, the fact that it is not possible to disinherit one’s children and that all offspring, from whatever current/previous marriage or relationship, must be treated equally in the succession
– second, France has adopted the system of pre-nuptial settlements (in French ‘regimes matrimoniaux’ or ‘contrats de mariage’) which determine the ownership of goods, chattels and real property as between the spouses during the course of, as well as after, the marriage.
Inter-vivos gifts and tax issues should also be carefully considered when dealing with the Estate planning of one’s French assets and specialist advice should be sought in these respects.