French Inheritance Laws – a rant

Posted: October 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

Ever since moving to France nearly twenty years ago, a niggling worry has never left us.  Each of us has been married before, and each has two offspring – which are the step children of one or other of us.  

Bear with me for the ensuing rigmarole:

French law as it stands does not recognise step-children as any relation of a deceased person.  A person’s estate is distributed, willy nilly to the widow (1/4) and the rest to the children of the dead person.  In an extreme case, barring agreement (by no means automatic) by the legal heirs, a second wife can be left virtually penniless when widowed.   That said, the widow/er has the right to occupy the home until his/her death, (assuming he/she can afford to live in it) when the whole lot goes  to the step-children.  But no sale can take place without the signed agreement of the  heirs.   Thus the offspring of the second to die get next to nothing.   Anything they might inherit (eg eventually the quarter share of any property if they’re lucky) attracts 60% inheritance tax as ‘strangers’.

We have taken what steps are open to us, legally, to mitigate the worst effects of this outdated law.   Our house is in our joint names, so that the first survivor would inherit his/her own half plus a quarter of the deceased’s half.   Our savings – small though they are – are divided equally between accounts in each of our names, and thus go automatically to ‘birth’ children. This leaves the survivor to try and ensure that the step-children don’t lose out, on the house and goods, and may entail the sale in order to pay the stepchildren their share – which would otherwise eventually go to the real children of the survivor.

Our notaire prepared a “Donation entre epoux” (gift between spouses) which ensures that the survivor cops the lot at the first death, pays the taxes as a spouse – ie with some exemptions, up to 40%.  Then, as before, the survivor has the nightmare of trying to ensure fairness between all 4 offspring who will eventually have to pay the 60% tax.  Not a lot left. 

This is of serious concern to a great many expats – Brits and others – and we know of many who have gone back reluctantly to theircountry of origin for this reason.

The European Commission  is trying to sort this anomalous situation for good and all, though I can’t see the French Government giving in willingly to interference with the enshrined Napoleonic Law.  The best that can be hoped for is that an estate can be managed in accordance with the law of the country from which the dead person comes, ie UK in our case0 so no problem – we leave the stuff however we want -which I would have thought was a basic human right.  In our case we could ensure that only after the death of both partners would both sets of children inherit equally, and we could sell up and rent if necessary to release funds to live on.  If put comes to shove, the French tax would have to be paid – better than the injustice of defrauding one or other family of their inheritance.

Sorry about the rant – but’s that’s the purpose for which I started this blog , to let off steam occasionally.

  1. […] my diatribe on French inheritance laws –  I wrote one of those smarmy pleas to President Sarkozy – in French, correspondence of all […]

  2. trisha says:

    they should be rewriting that law for sure. hope they soon will.

    Happy deepawali! May light, happiness and wealth shower down on your world and stay.

  3. earlybird says:

    Hi Viv, I came here via Tilly Bud’s blog – I know. It’s a nightmare rule. Have you investigated creating an SCI to own the house? (I’m not sure if you can with a house you own already though.)

    • vivinfrance says:

      Thank you Earlybird: no, it’s too late for an SCI, and there are drawbacks to that as well! Since posting my rant, I have written to everyone I can think of to lobby for rationalisation of the law, including M. le Président de la République! Not that it’ll do me any good: my French friends can’t see anything wrong with the situation as it is!

  4. 1sojournal says:

    I feel for you, my friend. Rant away, you deserve that much freedom at the very least.


  5. jinksy says:

    Steam away Viv! Anoither case where common sense needs to prevail…

  6. Tilly Bud says:

    Leaving you and Jock in the position of hoping to be Corpse Number One, to avoid the palaver. Thanks for muddying my day 🙂

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