2. French Inheritance Laws

  1. Basic Rules
  2. Surviving Spouse
  3. No Surviving Spouse
  4. Civil Partnership
  5. Free Union
  6. Divorcing Couples

2.5. French Inheritance Laws - Living in ‘Free Union’

  1. No Rights of Inheritance
  2. Children
  3. No Children
  4. Inheritance Planning

2.5.1. No Rights of Inheritance

In the absence of inheritance planning measures being taken, a surviving partner who had been living in ‘free union’ with the deceased has no rights of inheritance of the estate of the deceased.

As between one another those living in free union are legal strangers, with no inheritance rights between them and tough rules on liability to inheritance taxes.

Similarly, a surviving partner of a free union is not granted any automatic right to remain in the family home. The other inheritors could force the sale of the property if they so wished.

If the surviving partner was joint owner of the property, they share ownership of the property en indivision with the other inheritors, who are entitled to insist on the sale of the home if they so wish.

The deceased can provide for their surviving partner through a will or a gift but, if there are children, the deceased is only able to give away to their surviving partner that part of their estate that is freely disposable.

We can review the circumstances of a surviving partner in a 'free union' firstly, in the presence of children of the deceased, and then where there are no children of the deceased.

2.5.2. Children

Children of the deceased have absolute priority over all other potential inheritors and, in the absence of a will or gift, the estate of the deceased is divided entirely between them.

The grandchildren of the deceased would only inherit if the children of the deceased were themselves deceased.

No distinction is made between children born inside the relationship, or outside with another partner, or adopted children.

If children of a previous relationship of the deceased are excluded from the inheritance, deliberately or by default, they have the right to bring an action to benefit from the estate.

Descendants of the deceased are specifically protected from being disenfranchised from the inheritance.

That part of the estate that is earmarked for descendants is called la réserve; that part of the estate that is freely disposable is called the quotité disponible.

The amount of la réserve and the amount freely disposable will depend on the number of decendants.

The following table illustrates the entitlement of descendants under la réserve, and the amounts freely disposable.

Table: La Réserve

Inheritors Réserve Freely Disposable
One Child 1/2 of estate 1/2 of estate
Two Children 2/3 of estate 1/3 estate
Three Children 3/4 of estate 1/4 estate

So, if you leave a partner and two children, then your children automatically inherit 2/3rd of your estate, and you are free to dispose as you wish (including to the children and/or your surviving partner) the remaining 1/3 of your estate.

2.5.3. No Children

In the estate is intestate the following rules apply:

  • If the parents of the deceased are alive, they inherit 1/2 the estate. If there is only one of the parents alive they inherit 1/4 of the estate.
  • Where there are also brothers and sisters, or their descendants, they will inherit the remaining 1/2 if there are two parents, or 3/4 if only one parent.
  • If there are no parents, then the sisters and brothers of the deceased (or their descendants) inherit the totality of the estate.
  • And so on, down to aunts', uncles' and cousins.

2.5.4. Inheritance Planning

If you want to have some control over your estate on your death, then you need to undertake some inheritance planning.

If you wish to secure the future of your surviving partner, then you would be best advised to enter into a French civil partnership, and buy your French home through a property company or en tontine.

You should also consider making a will, and taking out a life insurance policy in favour of your suriving partner or beneficiaries.


Next: Divorce or Separation

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