Guide to Legal Process of Buying Property in France
7. Sole Ownership
Even though you may be married or living together it is, of course, of matter of choice as to whether you buy the property in your joint names, or you buy the property in a sole name.
We consider below the legal and tax implications of buying French property in your sole name, for those who may be either married, living together, or who subsequently marry.
- Married Couple
- Living Together
- Subsequent Marriage
7.1. Married Couples
If you are a married couple then there is no legal or tax reason why the property should not be purchased in joint names.
However, even if this does not occur, it does not make a great deal of difference, as there is statutory protection for the other spouse, and the fiscal implications are the same, even in the event of divorce.
In most countries marital laws specify that assets acquired during the marriage are jointly held by both partners, irrespective of by whom they may have been purchased. The position in France is generally no different.
In the case of a married couple, the civil law acts as though the property were in joint ownership on an equal basis (50-50), unless there were specific provisions to the contrary in the marriage contract.
That having been said, if you have children by a previous relationship you need to be careful of property purchased in sole ownership as it can more easily lead to inheritance complications and disputes. You can read more about this issue in our Guide to Inheritance Laws and Taxation.
You also need to consider that on death of the first spouse, if the property is in the sole name of the deceased, there may be higher property transfer taxes and fees payable when the property is transferred to the inheritors, including the surviving spouse.
7.2. Living Together
If you are living together in 'free union' and you purchase a French property in a sole name then, prima facia, French law grants no automatic rights of permanent occupation or ownership to the other party.
In the event of death of one of the parties the inheritance rights are granted to the next of kin of the deceased.
So if you are buying in France and you are not married, it is imperative you buy on a joint basis.
If you do so, it is possible to buy in unequal parts, to reflect the contribution of each party to the purchase (see next section on en indivision).
Alternatively, if you buy the French property in your sole name, you should consider grants specific rights over the property to your partner, eg right for your partner to occupy the property on your death.
Another consideration relates to any potential requirement you may have for obtaining a loan on the property.
If the property is held in only one name, then it is quite possible that a lender will only lend against the income of the owner and not the income of the whole household.
7.3. Subsequent Marriage
In the case of a single person who buys a property in France and subsequently gets married, the best and cheapest solution is to adopt a French marriage contract (you do not have to marry in France) called le régime de la communauté universelle, in which you can stipulate that the property is brought within the terms of the marriage contract. The fees and taxes for such a change may not, however, be a minor consideration. However, such a contract is not available to non-residents.
If you choose not to get married, you can enter into a French civil partnership (PACS), which grants some protection for the surviving partner, as well as exemption from liability to French inheritance tax.
Next: Joint Ownership
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