2. French Inheritance Laws

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

2.3. French Inheritance Laws - No Surviving Spouse

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

2.3.1. Order of Inheritance

Where there is no surviving spouse the law stipulates an order of inheritance, as follows:

  1. Children, and then their grandchildren;
  2. Father and mother; sisters and brothers and their descendants;
  3. Grand-parents;
  4. Others, such as uncle’s, aunt’s and cousins.

Each order of inheritors excludes the following inheritors, and those in the same order share the inheritance equally between them.

Accordingly, those beyond the first order of inheritance will only inherit if there are no children, or descendants of the children, and so on.

We can look at the circumstances of those with no surviving spouse who leave children, and those who leave no descendants.

2.3.2. Children

If there is no surviving spouse, children of the deceased have absolute priority over all other potential inheritors and, in the absence of a will, the estate is divided entirely (and equally) between them.

The grandchildren of the deceased would only inherit if the children of the deceased were themselves deceased. So, if you had three children, one of whom was deceased, the inheritance would be divided equally between your two remaining children, and any grand-children of your deceased child.

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

However, in the absence of inheritance planning measures being taken, children of a your former (possibly deceased) spouse born outside of the relationship, have no rights of inheritance to your estate.

So, if you inherited everything from your deceased spouse through a French marriage contract, or en tontine, any children of your deceased spouse born outside of the relationship are not protected heirs. This is why most notaires will not allow those with children from a previous relationship to adopt a French marriage contract, or purchase the property en tontine.

As we said in the section on Basic Rules, 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 no surviving spouse and two children of the relationship, then the children automatically inherit 2/3 of your estate, and you are free to dispose as you wish (including to one or both of the children) the remaining 1/3.

2.3.3. No Children

In the absence of a surviving spouse, or children, the deceased is able through a will to freely dispose of their entire estate as they wish.

In the event of the estate being intestate, then an order of inheritance applies.

The first order of inheritance is the parents and brothers and sisters (or their decendants) of the deceased.

Where there are both parents alive then they inherit 1/2 the estate, with the remainder to brothers and sisters.

If there is only one parent alive, they will inherit 1/4, with 3/4 to brothers and sisters (or descendants if they are deceased).

If there are no parents, then the sisters and brothers of the deceased (or their descendants if any brothers or sisters are deceased) inherit the totality of the estate.

If there are no parents, or brothers or sisters, or their descendants, then the next in line are grand-parents, followed by uncles' and aunts' and cousins.

2.3.4. Inheritance Planning

In order to modify the statutory rights of potential inheritors it is possible to undertake some inheritance planning measures.

Such action might include making gifts during your lifetime, making a will, or entering into a family inheritance pact.

Read more about these options in the section on Inheritance Planning.

Next: Civil Partnership

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