The Essentials of French Inheritance Laws for UK Nationals Living in France

The Essentials of French Inheritance Laws for UK Nationals Living in France

by | May 31, 2023

If you are a UK national who lives in France, perhaps even owning one or more properties in the latter country, you may have understandably found it challenging to comprehend the intricacies of French inheritance law.

While the inheritance laws in France can certainly be a complex subject for a lot of people, it is crucial for anyone who purchases a property in the country, or who has other assets there, to grasp the implications that these laws have for them. After all, you will presumably want to ensure your assets are ultimately distributed according to your wishes.

So, here at Kentingtons, part of our service is to advise on French inheritance, from the perspective of UK nationals. We will consider how the French legal situation surrounding inheritance differs from the UK one, and what impact this has on UK nationals living in France.

We will also take the chance to outline the importance of making a will that takes French inheritance law into account, and provide an overview of the tax implications of inheriting a French property for a UK national.

Finally, we will look at how to plan around French inheritance law, and why it can be a great idea to consult with a well-qualified financial advice company – such as Kentingtons – that specialises in French and UK inheritance law.

Let’s dive in.

French Inheritance Laws for UK nationals Living in France

What are the basic rules that UK nationals should know concerning French inheritance law?

The first crucial consideration is that there are major differences between French inheritance law and equivalent legislation in the UK.

The main difference between the two is the concept of forced heirship, whereby a portion of the deceased’s estate in France is required to be passed to their children and, in some cases, their spouse, regardless of what wishes the deceased expressed in their will.

Under French law, children are considered to have a legal right to a portion of their parents’ estate. This portion is known as the réserve. If a parent has one child, the reserve is half of the estate. In the event of the parent having had two children, the réserve is two thirds of the estate, and if there are three or more children, it is three quarters of the estate.

Where the deceased has a surviving spouse, the spouse, if legal provision has been made, may have the right of use of the property, known as the usufruit, which entitles the surviving spouse to use and enjoy the deceased’s property for the rest of their life. What it does not do, however, is give them automatic ownership of the property. The remaining portion of the estate, referred to as the ‘naked ownership,’ is then passed to the children.

A notary also plays a key role in the inheritance process in France. The term “notary” refers to a legal professional who is responsible for making sure the estate is distributed in line with French inheritance law. It is also the notary’s responsibility to ensure the payment of all necessary taxes, as well as that the distribution of the estate has been undertaken correctly.

So, what is the impact of French inheritance law on UK nationals?

If you are a UK national who owns property in France, you will need to be well-informed on how French inheritance law would affect such assets. If, at the time of your death, you are a UK citizen, living in France, it is French law that will govern the distribution of your estate.

As we stated above, the concept of forced heirship means that a portion of the deceased’s estate must be passed to their children, and in some cases, their spouse, irrespective of the deceased’s expressed wishes in their will. This may represent an obstacle for you if you wish to leave your assets to someone other than children or a spouse – for example, a friend or even a charity.

So, if this sounds like your situation, as a UK national owning property or assets in France, and you are anxious to ensure your wishes will be carried out after your death, it is essential that you take professional advice that considers French inheritance law.

It is not just the complexities of distribution that you may need to think about as a UK national living in France; even the process of inheriting property can have certain tax implications. In France, tax is levied on the estate of the deceased, and the tax rates vary depending on the relationship between the deceased and the beneficiary. This could leave you, as a UK national inheriting property in France, with significant tax obligations.

The good news as far as the aforementioned complexity is concerned, is that a double tax treaty does exist between the UK and France, which is designed to eliminate the possibility of paying tax in more than one country.

The details of the double tax treaty can be complicated; therefore, we would recommend that you seek out professional advice to help ensure you fully understand your tax obligations in both countries.

How can you plan for French inheritance law as a UK national?

So, you will now hopefully understand something about the effect French inheritance law can have on UK nationals owning property in France. But what are some of the practical steps you can take to plan around this legislation?

Unless you have a fervent desire and wherewithal to understand the vagaries of French civil and fiscal law, international law, double tax treaties and their connection to UK legislation, I have a strong suggestion:

Seek professional advice

This is one of the most important things to do for a UK national who has assets in France. We highly recommend that you consult with a professional who specialises in inheritance law in both the UK and France. This will help ensure your assets are distributed not only tax-efficiently, but also in line with your wishes.

Making a will is not always the ideal, or at least only, solution for everyone and there are many other solutions. We often meet people who are incredibly surprised to hear from their French notaire, that they do not need a will. The need depends on your situation, so there is a need for a deep analysis of the options. Naturally, if you do make a will, it is imperative to keep it up to date.

Final thoughts: be sure to seek out only the best advice on French inheritance law

In conclusion, French inheritance law can certainly have a significant impact on UK nationals who live in and own property in France.

Therefore, it is crucial that, if this describes your situation, you are well-informed on the exact effects of this law, and the steps that you will need to take to ensure your wishes are carried out after your death.

If you are a UK national in France, you should seek professional advice, to ensure that your wishes are respected while complying with French inheritance regulation and making it a routine to regularly review and update your arrangements.

By following these processes, you can help ensure your assets will be distributed in a tax-efficient manner, and in line with your wishes.

To learn more about how we can help you here at Kentingtons to make all the right financial planning decisions as a UK national in France, why not reach out to us by phone or email today?

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 Disclaimer: The information in the above article concerning taxation is based upon our understanding of the taxation laws and practises in France at the time of writing. These taxation rules are subject to change and as such, Kentingtons cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies that may occur. The information in this article does not constitute personal advice. Individuals should seek personalised advice in relation to their own situation.

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