2. French Inheritance Laws
2.4. French Inheritance Laws & Civil Partnerships
2.4.1. No Rights of Inheritance
If you are a resident non-married couple it is possible to enter into a French civil partnership, which grants relief from French inheritance taxes.
Since 2009 the law grants recognition of a civil partnership entered into in a country other than France.
Prior to this law, if you were already in a civil partnership from elsewhere you could not then enter into a French civil partnership to obtain relief from inheritance taxes.
The law is retrospective, so all civil partnerships entered into prior to 2009 are recognised.
Nevertheless, even a French civil partnership (PACS) does not grant automatic rights of inheritance to a surviving partner.
Similarly, a surviving partner in a French civil partnership is not granted any basic right to remain permanently in the family home.
A surviving partner who is part owner of the property, shares ownership of the property en indivision with the other inheritors who, under the rules of en indivision, are ultimately entitled to insist on the sale of the home if they so wish.
In order to mitigate the worst affects of this situation, a more recent change in the law has granted a right of occupation of the family home to the surviving partner for a period of one year.
The deceased can also transfer at least some of their estate to their partner by will or gift but, if there are children, the deceased is only able to give away to their partner that part of their estate that is freely disposable.
We can review the circumstances of a surviving partner in a civil partnership where are there are children, and where there are no children, of the deceased.
Children of the deceased are specifically protected from being disenfranchised from the inheritance.
Accordingly, 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 or outside the relationship, or adopted children. If children of the deceased from a previous relationship are excluded from the inheritance, deliberately or by default, they have the right to bring an action to benefit from the estate.
That part of the estate that is earmarked for children of the deceased 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
|1/2 of estate
|1/2 of estate
|2/3 of estate
|3/4 of estat
So, if you leave a partner and two children, then the children automatically inherit 2/3 of your estate, and you are free to dispose as you wish (including to the children or your surviving partner) the remaining 1/3 of your estate.
2.4.3. 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.
In the absence of children, the deceased is able by a will or gift to freely dispose of their entire estate.
2.4.4. 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 are not already in a civil partnership, you can enter into a French civil partnership (PACS).
- Buy your French home en tontine with your partner so it is automatically transferred to the surviving partner on first death.
- Alternatively, buy your French home through a property company.
- Enter into a family inheritance pact with protected heirs in which they defer some or all of their inheritance rights in favour of the surviving partner.
- Consider protection through a Will or Gift. In particular, if the property is held indivision in a Will the partner can be granted preferential rights to the property (l’attribution préférentielle du logement), although this will require that the other inheritors are compensated. Through a Will it is also possible to bequeath the usufruct of the home, if the value of the usufruct is less than the reserve share of the children of the deceased. They will thus be able to stay in the property until the end of their life, free of charge, while the children will recover full ownership of the property upon their death.
Read more about these options in the section on Inheritance Planning.
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