Guide to Wills & Estates in France


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France has its own set of rules governing wills and estates, which might differ significantly from those in your home country. These laws dictate how your assets are distributed in the event of your passing, affecting your loved ones and their inheritance. Given the potential language barrier and the complexity of French law, getting ahead with a clear, well-documented plan is both a practical and a necessary measure to protect yourself and your assets.

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Whether you are just beginning to consider your estate plan or looking to update an existing will, this guide is designed to offer valuable insights and straightforward advice to ensure your peace of mind and the well-being of your loved ones.


  • French estate law includes forced heirship, affecting asset distribution.
  • Wills in France can be holographic, authentic, or mystic, each with unique requirements.
  • Expats should consider the impact of French inheritance tax and potential double taxation.
  • International wills provide a solution for managing assets across multiple countries.
  • Selecting knowledgeable executors and trustees is crucial for international estates.
  • Regular updates to your will ensure it reflects current laws and personal circumstances.

Understanding French Law on Wills and Estates

France’s approach to wills and estates might come as a surprise to many expatriates, especially those from countries with more flexible estate planning laws. A key aspect of French law is the principle of “forced heirship.”

This principle mandates that a certain portion of your estate (the “réserve héréditaire“) is reserved for your direct descendants – your children. The remaining portion (the “quotité disponible“) is the only part of your estate that you can freely allocate to anyone else through your will.

Recognizing the Types of Wills

In France, three main types of wills are recognized, each with its own set of formalities:

Type of WillDescriptionAdvantages
HolographicEntirely handwritten, dated, and signed by the testatorSimple to create; no formal witnessing required
AuthenticDrafted and executed in the presence of a notaire and two witnesses or two notairesProvides legal security; officially recorded
MysticSealed and delivered to a notaire in the presence of witnessesAllows for confidentiality until after the testator’s death

Holographic Will

This is a will entirely handwritten, dated, and signed by the testator (the person making the will). Its simplicity and lack of formal witnessing make it a popular choice, but it also raises concerns about its validity and interpretation.

Authentic Will

Drafted and executed in the presence of a notaire (a type of French legal officer) and two witnesses or two notaires, this will is more formal and provides a higher degree of certainty and legal standing.

Mystic Will

Less common, this will is sealed and then given to a notaire in the presence of witnesses. The content remains confidential until it is opened after the testator’s death.

Each type of will has its advantages and challenges, particularly for foreigners who might be unfamiliar with French legal formalities or language. The choice between these will types depends on personal circumstances, the complexity of your estate, and your preference for confidentiality or legal assurance.

Legal Validity Across Borders

For expatriates, understanding how your will can affect assets both in France and abroad is critical. The European Union’s Succession Regulation, known as Brussels IV, allows residents in participating countries to choose the law of their nationality to govern their estate.

This choice must be explicitly made in your will; otherwise, your estate may be subject to French law by default. It’s essential to consider this aspect when planning your estate, especially if you have assets in multiple countries.

Creating a Will in France

Creating a Will in France

Steps to Create a Valid Will

As an expatriate in France, drafting a will that complies with both French law and reflects your wishes requires careful planning and consideration. Here’s how you can ensure your will is both valid and effective:

Consultation with a Notaire

Start by consulting a notaire, a legal professional in France who plays a crucial role in drafting and storing official documents, including wills. A notaire provides invaluable advice on French estate law and can help you understand the complexities of your estate planning, ensuring your will is legally sound and tailored to your circumstances.

Choosing the Right Type of Will

Decide on the type of will that best suits your needs. Whether it’s a holographic will for simplicity, an authentic will for added legal security, or a mystic will for confidentiality, your choice should reflect your situation, the complexity of your estate, and your preferences for how your will is executed.

Compliance with French and Home Country Laws

Ensure that your will complies with French law and considers the laws of your home country, especially if you choose to apply the law of your nationality to your estate under the EU Succession Regulation. This step is crucial for minimizing legal challenges and ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Bilingual Wills and Translations

For those who may not be fluent in French, consider drafting a bilingual will or obtaining a certified translation of your will. This ensures clarity and helps avoid misunderstandings in the interpretation of your wishes. It’s a step that can significantly ease the administrative and legal processes involved after your passing.

Importance of Legal and Linguistic Accuracy

Creating a will in a foreign country comes with unique challenges, including language barriers and differing legal systems. Precision in language and legal terminology is paramount to avoid any ambiguity that could lead to disputes or misinterpretations of your intentions. By ensuring your will is clear, legally compliant, and accurately reflects your wishes, you protect your assets and provide security for your loved ones.

Tax Implications for Estates

Understanding Inheritance Tax in France

For expatriates living in France, the implications of inheritance tax on estates cannot be overlooked. France applies inheritance tax on assets passed to beneficiaries, and the rates vary significantly depending on the relationship between the deceased and the beneficiary. Here’s what you need to know:

Spouses and PACS Partners

In a move to support families, France exempts spouses and partners bound by a PACS (Pacte Civil de Solidarité, a form of civil union) from inheritance tax. This exemption underscores the importance of formalizing partnerships in France, particularly for expatriates.

Direct Descendants

Children and direct descendants benefit from relatively favorable tax rates and significant allowances before any tax is applied. The specific allowances and rates depend on the value of the assets inherited, with the tax rate increasing for higher-value estates.

Other Beneficiaries

For beneficiaries not directly related to the deceased, the tax rates are considerably higher, and the allowances are much lower. This distinction highlights the importance of strategic estate planning to minimize the tax burden on non-direct descendants.

Avoiding Double Taxation

Expatriates must also understand the complexities of potential double taxation on their estate – that is, the possibility of inheritance tax being levied by both France and their country of origin. France has established double taxation treaties with numerous countries to prevent this scenario.

These treaties outline which country has the right to tax certain assets, providing clarity and tax relief for international estates. It is crucial to understand the specifics of any treaty applicable to your situation and how it influences your estate planning.

Estate Planning Strategies

Proper estate planning offers several strategies to manage and potentially reduce the inheritance tax burden on your estate in France. These strategies might include gifting assets during your lifetime within the tax-free allowances, structuring your estate to take full advantage of exemptions and lower tax rates, or setting up life insurance policies that benefit from favorable tax treatment in France.

International Wills and Estate Planning

International Wills and Estate Planning

Cross-Border Estate Planning

For expatriates residing in France, crafting an estate plan that effectively encompasses assets across different countries is a complex but essential task. An international will can serve as a comprehensive solution, offering a way to harmonize the disposition of assets worldwide under a single document. Understanding the intricacies of international wills and their role in cross-border estate planning is vital for ensuring that your global assets are managed according to your wishes.

The Role of the International Will

Under the Hague Convention, an international will provides a legally recognized format that can be used by individuals with assets in multiple countries. This type of will adheres to specific standards that, when properly executed, ensure its validity across participating countries. Key benefits include:

Universality: The international will is designed to be recognized by all signatory countries to the Hague Convention, reducing the risk of legal disputes over its validity.

Clarity: Drafting a single document that outlines the disposition of worldwide assets simplifies estate administration, providing clear instructions for executors and beneficiaries.

Flexibility: It allows for the inclusion of specific provisions tailored to the legal requirements or customary practices of different jurisdictions where assets are located.

Coordinating International Assets

When planning an estate that includes assets in France and abroad, consider the following:

Legal Jurisdiction: Decide under which country’s laws your international will shall be governed. This decision can significantly impact how your assets are distributed, particularly in light of France’s forced heirship rules versus more permissive inheritance laws in other countries.

Asset Inventory: Compile a comprehensive inventory of your assets, categorizing them by location. This inventory will be invaluable in drafting your will and ensuring all assets are accounted for and appropriately managed.

Professional Guidance: Engaging professionals with expertise in international estate planning is crucial. This team might include notaires, lawyers, and tax advisors knowledgeable about the laws and tax implications in each country where you hold assets.

Considerations for Executors and Trustees

Another critical aspect of estate planning is selecting executors and trustees capable of managing an international estate. Choose individuals or institutions with the experience, knowledge, and capacity to understand the legal and tax complexities of multiple jurisdictions. Communicating your wishes and providing detailed instructions and information about your assets will also aid them in efficiently executing your will.

Choosing Executors and Trustees

Choosing Executors and Trustees

The Importance of Careful Selection

Choosing the right executors and trustees is a pivotal aspect of effective estate planning, especially for expatriates in France with assets and interests spanning multiple jurisdictions. These individuals or institutions will be responsible for administering your estate and ensuring your wishes are fulfilled according to your will. Given the complexities of managing an international estate, selecting executors and trustees who are both capable and trustworthy is crucial.

Criteria for Choosing Executors and Trustees

Understanding of Legal and Tax Implications

Opt for executors and trustees with a solid grasp of the legal and tax systems in France as well as in any other country where you have significant assets. This knowledge is essential for understand the complexities of cross-border estate administration.

Experience with International Estates

Prioritize individuals or institutions that have experience managing international estates. They are more likely to be familiar with the challenges and nuances of dealing with assets in multiple jurisdictions.

Language Proficiency

Given the potential language barrier, it’s beneficial to choose executors and trustees who are proficient in both your native language and French. This bilingual or multilingual capability will facilitate smoother communication with all relevant parties, including legal professionals, tax authorities, and beneficiaries.

Availability and Willingness to Serve

Ensure that your chosen executors and trustees are willing and able to take on the responsibilities involved. Managing an estate, especially an international one, can be time-consuming and complex. It’s important they commit to the role for the duration needed.

Professional Advice and Assistance

Consider engaging a professional, such as a notaire or an attorney specializing in estate planning, to act as an executor or trustee. These professionals bring expertise and experience to the role, though they will charge for their services. Their involvement can add a layer of professionalism and efficiency to the administration of your estate.

The Role of the Notaire in France

In France, the notaire plays a vital role in the execution of wills and the administration of estates. Notaires are legal professionals with public authority, which means they can perform certain functions that are reserved for them by French law, such as authenticating legal documents and overseeing the transfer of real estate. For expatriates, involving a notaire in the estate planning process and possibly as an executor or trustee offers several advantages:

Legal Certainty: Notaires ensure that your will and estate are administered in accordance with French law, providing legal certainty.

Efficient Estate Administration: Their expertise and familiarity with the French legal system can streamline the estate administration process, potentially saving time and reducing complications for your beneficiaries.

Cross-Border Expertise: Some notaires have experience dealing with international estates and can navigate the complications involved in managing assets across different jurisdictions.

Updating and Managing Your Will

The Necessity of Regular Updates

Life’s only constant is change, and this truth underscores the importance of regularly reviewing and updating your will. For expatriates living in France, changes in personal circumstances, legislation, or financial status can significantly impact how your estate should be managed and distributed. Ensuring your will reflects your current wishes and legal standards is crucial for the effective execution of your estate plan.

Key Moments for Review

Changes in Family Structure: Significant life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of a beneficiary necessitate a review of your will. These changes can alter the distribution of your estate and may require the appointment of new executors or guardians.

Movement of Assets: Acquiring or disposing of significant assets, especially in different jurisdictions, can impact your estate planning. Regularly updating your asset inventory and how each is addressed in your will is essential.

Relocation: Moving to a new country or back to your home country can have profound implications for your estate plan, given the different legal systems and tax implications. A review will ensure your will is compliant with relevant laws and tax-efficient.

Changes in Law: Legal and tax changes in France or your home country can affect the validity and efficiency of your will. Stay informed about relevant legal changes and consult with a professional to understand how these changes might impact your estate plan.

Steps to Update Your Will

Consult with a Professional: Engaging a notaire or legal advisor who specializes in estate planning is the first step. They can provide guidance on the necessary updates and ensure your will complies with current laws.

Document Changes Clearly: Any amendments to your will should be clearly documented. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to draft a new will rather than amend an existing one. Your legal advisor can recommend the best approach based on the extent of the changes.

Inform Executors and Beneficiaries: Keep your executors and key beneficiaries informed about significant changes to your will. While the specifics of your will are personal, ensuring that key individuals are aware of their roles and any major updates can prevent surprises and facilitate smoother estate administration.

Secure and Accessible Storage: Ensure your updated will is stored securely in a location that is accessible to your executor or legal representative. Consider also keeping a copy with your notaire or lawyer and informing trusted individuals of its location.

Practical Tips for Expats

Practical Tips for Expats

Effective Estate Planning in France

Estate planning in a foreign country can seem overwhelming. For expatriates in France, understanding the legal intricacies and ensuring your will and estate plan are both comprehensive and compliant is essential. Here are some practical tips to guide you through the process:

Engage Professional Services

The importance of consulting with a notaire or an estate planning attorney cannot be overstated. These professionals offer invaluable advice on French estate law, help draft your will to ensure it meets legal standards, and can navigate international complexities if you have assets abroad.

Understand the French Legal System

Familiarize yourself with the basics of French law regarding wills and inheritance. Knowing about forced heirship and the types of wills recognized in France can help you make informed decisions about your estate plan.

Consider the International Aspect of Your Estate

If you have assets in multiple countries, consider the benefits of an international will or specific strategies to manage these assets effectively. Professionals with cross-border estate planning experience can provide guidance tailored to your situation.

Language Matters

For those not fluent in French, consider drafting a bilingual will or ensure a certified translation accompanies your will. This can prevent misunderstandings and make the execution of your will smoother.

Regularly Review and Update Your Will

Life changes such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or moving countries can affect your estate plan. Regular reviews ensure your will reflects your current wishes and circumstances.

Inform Executors and Trustees

Ensure that your chosen executors and trustees are aware of their appointments and understand their roles. Providing them with detailed instructions and the location of important documents can facilitate their task upon your passing.

Keep Important Documents Accessible

Store your will and related estate planning documents in a secure yet accessible place. Inform your executor, a trusted family member, or your attorney about where these documents are kept.

Plan for Tax Implications

Understand the inheritance tax implications for your estate in France and how it might affect your beneficiaries. Professional advice can help you structure your estate to minimize tax liabilities.

Use a Notaire’s Expertise for Real Estate

If you own property in France, a notaire’s involvement is crucial due to their specialized knowledge of French real estate law and their role in property transactions.

Consider Digital Assets

In today’s digital age, don’t forget to include digital assets in your estate plan. Provide instructions for how these should be managed and accessed, considering privacy and value implications.


Originating from the lively city of Marseille, Luc embodies the essence of the French lifestyle, gracing our platform with enthralling glimpses into France’s rich culture and traditions.

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