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Notaire Charges and French Marriage Contracts

Thursday 02 October 2008

The best way for a married couple to shield themselves from French inheritance laws is to adopt a French marriage contract, but we have come across some surprising variations in the charges made by notaires.

French marriage contracts are really no more than a postnuptial agreement. You do not need to be single, or to re-marry in France to enter such a contract. They are merely a way of regulating the ownership and transmission of assets in a marriage, and do not involve annulment of your existing marriage!

Many international buyers choose to enter such contract, the most popular of which is the régime de communauté universelle.

Under this marriage regime all the French assets of the couple are said to be owned communally, and the inclusion of the clause d’attribution intégrale in the contract means that the assets transfer automatically to the surviving spouse on first death.

Whilst there are both advantages and disadvantages to such a contract, we recommend it if you wish to circumvent the entrenched rights of children under French inheritance laws.

The process of adopting the marriage contract is carried out through a notaire (French notary) and, as a general rule, the fees payable should be no more than a few hundred euros. However, we do receive a regular trickle of reports of couples who have been quoted or charged several thousand euros for the process.

Peter and Angela Markham, a couple with a property in the in Var, advised us that they had to pay no less than nearly €4,500 in fees and taxes, whilst a couple in Aquitaine also reported to us that they had been advised by their notaire that the cost would be in the region of €2,200.

We are surprised to hear of such high fees, for where the property is in joint ownership, and the contract merely confers a right to succeed to the assets of a deceased spouse, the fees should be quite modest.

A high fee would only be payable in very particular circumstances. For instance, where an actual transfer of the property was taking place from single to joint names, simultaneously with the adoption of a marriage contract, then stamp duty and higher fees would be payable on the property transfer.

Higher charges may also be payable where the adoption of the marriage contract involved other issues than merely the right to succeed to the estate of the deceased spouse, or there was a need to liquidate an existing French marriage contract, something that would not normally apply to a married couple from abroad.

Where you merely wished to ensure that the surviving spouse inherited the whole estate, then the charge should only be around €300-€400.

The level of these fees and taxes are fixed by French government regulations, but it is clear to us from the enquiries we have made that even the notaires themselves find some difficulty in working out just how much they should charge.

According to one notaire we spoke to, if the value of the property is mentioned in the marriage contract, then fees based on a percentage of the value are payable, albeit at a very low rate. He advised that the way around the difficulty would be to avoid mentioning the value of the property at all!

If you are being quoted more than a few hundred euros, you need to ask why, and you would be well advised to seek quotes from more than one notaire, making sure each time you explain your own circumstances and wishes in the same terms. It is possible for any notaire in France to undertake the formalities.

You can read more about the advantages and disadvantages of a French marriage contract in our comprehensive guide to French Inheritance Laws and Taxes.

We would also be interested to hear from you if you have adopted a French marriage contract.

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