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A French Will Must be in Own Handwriting

Friday 08 September 2017

A will that is not made in the handwriting of the testator is null and void, a French court has ruled.

If you own property in France then inheritance planning is likely to be an issue you will wish to give due consideration, if only due to the constraints of French inheritance laws.

It is a complex issue for international property owners, for a host of legal, tax and family reasons, and likely to become a bigger issue for UK nationals as a result of Brexit.

One of the inheritance planning steps that many expatriates adopt is to make a will, a measure that, whilst it offers no tax advantages, is particularly useful for those who have no immediate family, who have difficult or complex family relationships, or who are not married.

However, as is so frequently is the case in France, it pays to be very careful about the procedure you adopt, for unless due process is followed it may later be declared void by public servants or judges.

Such a case occurred recently where a testator made a will in which he left the whole of his estate to a female beneficiary.

The will had been dictated by the testator to the female beneficiary who wrote it, in front of two other witnesses, and it was then signed by him.

On the death of the testator the brother of the deceased brought an action in the courts, challenging the validity of the will, arguing that it had not been made in accordance with due procedure.

Article 970 of the Civil Code is quite specific in stating that to be valid a will must in the handwriting (testament olographe) of the testator: 'Le testament olographe ne sera point valable s'il n'est écrit en entier, daté et signé de la main du testateur : il n'est assujetti à aucune autre forme.'

Despite the fact several other witnesses, including medical witnesses, testified that the contents of the will were the expressed wishes of the deceased, the French Supreme Court, the Cour de Cassation, ruled that it was null and void.

This is clearly a cautionary tale, but as an alternative to make a will in your own handwriting a more secure approach is to have the document drawn up through the auspices of a notaire.

Such a will is called a testament authentique.

If you also separately have a will made up by lawyers in your home country it is important that you ensure the wills are consistent and that, particularly if you are resident in France, the former is valid under French law.

You can read more in our Guide to Inheritance Laws and Taxes in France.

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