4. Managing Your French Bank Account

  1. Cash Withdrawals
  2. Direct Debits and Standing Orders
  3. Statements
  4. Bank Overdrafts
  5. Closing/Transferring Account
  6. Death of Spouse/Partner
  7. Seizure of Account

4.6. Death of Spouse/Partner

Contrary to widely held belief, a joint French bank account is not automatically blocked or controlled following death of one of the spouses, although it is not uncommon for local staff not to properly understand law and practice and for there to be difficulties.

A ‘joint account’ (compte joint) is one that is in the name of two or more individuals in which both/all are able to use the account without the consent of the other party/parties.

Under most circumstances the surviving spouse/partner can continue to use the account in the normal manner, although it is possible you may be limited to only be able to access half of the balance in the account pending settlement of the succession.

This does not, however, apply to those who have entered into a particular type of French marriage contract, called the régime de communauté universelle with the clause d’attribution intégrale, when there continues to be unlimited access to the account.

If the bank is aware of the death and denies you access then you should lodge a complaint with their 'Service Client' department.

One strategy, therefore, prior to notifying them of the death, is to set up an account in your own name with a different bank, into which you transfer funds.

The only circumstances where the bank would automatically prevent access to an account would be either:

Where the account was in the sole name of the deceased, or;
Where the account was one in which operations required the consent of all parties to the account. 

In the former case it is nevertheless possible to obtain access to up to €5,000 from the account for funeral costs, provided the inheritors are clearly identified, and consent to the use of the funds.

In the latter case, such accounts are known as compte indivis/compte en indivision, more common in business than in personal use.

In such circumstances the bank would also be the entitled to deny access to use of the debit/credit card of the deceased.

There are also two further possible circumstances when there may be some limits imposed on the use of the joint account.

i. Inheritance - First, where an inheritor to the estate of the deceased made a formal objection to the bank on use of the joint account by the surviving spouse.

It has to be remembered here that all sums remaining in the joint account at the time of death are considered to belong to all the inheritors of the estate, in proportion to their rights under the estate.

If objections were raised by any of the inheritors then one way around the problem would be to create a compte indivis, so that all parties to the estate had some control over the operation of the account.

You may also wish to read our Newsletter on Bank Charges and Inheritance.

ii. Notaire - The second circumstance would be where the notaire dealing with the inheritance objected to use of the account by the surviving spouse if they considered use of the account was impacting adversely on the inheritance rights of the other inheritors.

Objections of either nature are rare, and more so in the latter case.

However, if you have any concerns about possible controls on use of a joint account on death of your spouse/partner, then it would make sense to ensure you hold an account in your own name, with sufficient funds in it to meet ongoing expenses pending final resolution of the estate of the deceased.

You can read more generally on procedures to take on death of a spouse/partner in our Guide to Death Procedures in France.

Next: Seizure of Account

Back: Closing/Transferring Account

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