French Will

Published / Last Updated on 12/03/2015

Video explains the two types of French Will as well as what to do if you have a UK Will or if you die without a French Will and have assets in France.


“Hello there, the subject for my video today is French Wills: Making a Will in France.
So many people have bought property in France, many people are thinking of retiring to France or indeed have already moved to or retired in France and the question is what about French succession laws and making a French Will and so I thought I would cover the subject today for you.

First things first, when you make a Will: do you make a Will in France do you make a Will in the UK?

The simple answer is a UK Will, if you have one can cover your worldwide assets including French assets, so if you have French property et cetera your UK Will may cover it. However, you have to be very careful that the wording of your UK Will doesn't contradict French inheritance and succession laws because if it does contradict French law then that part of the Will becomes invalid.

The second part is: should I have a UK Will and a French Will? [And] the simple answer is yes that's a solution. Again, what I would say to you is if you have two Wills and certainly, personally I have a Will in Spain and I have Will in the UK because I have business interests in Spain, it's the same with France or you have to do is you have to make sure that your French Will doesn't revoke your English well or your UK Will enjoy UK Will doesn't revoke you French Will. What I mean by that is: for example, that the first wording usually in any Will, for example a UK Will, it will say: “I hereby revoke all former testamentary Wills made by me” basically I hereby cancel all previous Wills. Now, if your Will says that, it technically and legally cancels any other Will. So when you make two Wills you have to be careful to make sure that they make reference to each other and they don't cancel each other out.

Now, a UK Will there is a requirement: for it’s a written Will, usually done by a solicitor or a professional Will writing service such as the one we offer and you sign your Will in the presence of two witnesses and there is no legal requirement now, there used to be many years ago but there is no legal requirement now, for you to register your Will or it used to be stored at Somerset house and things like that many years ago.

Now in France, a very different approach to Wills.

The first type of Will is called a ‘testament olographe’ and what that means is it's a ‘holographic Will’. Sounds very posh doesn’t it? What it really means, it is literally a hand written Will. So you can personally make your own hand written Will under French law. So you can write your Will out, but it's got to be in your own hand not typed or anything like that but it's the holographic Will is handwritten, all of the pages of your Will must be numbered, you must then initial every single page, your Will must include the exact location of where you are writing your Will out, the date, the time, the year et cetera. You then sign your Will and that is a legal Will in France. So you can hand write your Will, number the pages, initial all the pages, sign it and that's a legal Will in France. That Will does not have to be registered with the central registry in France but you can do if you wish, so it doesn't have to be registered, keep it in a safe place or indeed keep it with your English Will or your UK Will or your Scottish or whatever as well.

There is also another type of Will in France and they call that the ‘authentic Will’ authentic and with an authentic Will, a authentic Will is drafted by a French notary, so it's professionally drafted or typed out and whatever else and then it moves along a very similar basis to a UK Will so it's done by a professional: you sign your Will and then you have two witnesses to your signature and that Will is then registered at the central registry.

Though those are the two types of Will you have a holographic Will handwritten or you have an authentic Will done by a professional, a notary and that one is registered and your witnesses, very similar to the UK route. Or like I’ve said, you could have one UK Will that covers everything provided it doesn't contradict any French law and I think for most people it’s safer to have two Wills: one in France, one UK as long as they are the French one covers French only assets and UK covers all other assets for example then no problem and as long as they mention each other and they don't contradict each other.

Right, now what if you die without a Will? If you die intestate? If you die intestate then what happens in the UK when we die intestate is we have intestacy laws and the laws of intestacy takeover where there are certain limits where if you're married or have a civil partner or spouse they inherit a certain amount, if you’ve got children then the excess over and above they may have a share of or a trust etc. and even intestacy laws differ slightly in Scotland to what they do let's say England. So in France same position but what the French do for non-French nationals, so for a French National it would cover the usual succession laws in France (basically under the Napoleonic code set up by Napoleon 200 and whatever 20 years ago) but for a UK national the Law of Nationality may apply.

Now for non-French nationals: the Laws of Nationality apply and that's to do with: it’s called your residency and your domicile where you acquire your domicile from birth so for example I was born to an English father, I am English domiciled, my friend was born to a Scottish father and she is Scottish domiciled. So the laws of domicile and intestacy vary depending upon basically who your father was, what your homeland was. Now, with France and indeed Spain, Spain has the law of nationality where your national laws apply if you die without a Will. In France they have the same, however the UK has not signed up to the treaty, we abstained from the Laws of Nationality, so because we have quite a cosmopolitan nation the United Kingdom and a lot of foreign domiciles living in UK, we haven't signed up to the Laws of Nationality, so as a result for a British person in France, because we haven't signed up to the Treaty on Laws of Nationality that doesn't apply. So in France death without a Will, a UK domiciled person, wouldn't have UK Laws of Nationality apply but you would probably have French laws apply depending on what, where the assets are whether in France or whether in the UK etc.

So be very careful here: my view is don't even go there on ‘dying without a Will’ and the complications of domicile and Laws of Nationality and French Napoleonic succession laws or UK ones or indeed the fact that the UK hasn't signed up to that particular treaty but abstained.

My guidance here is definitely, definitely make a Will, ideally I would suggest to keep it simple make two Wills, make your Will in the United Kingdom for worldwide assets excluding French assets and then make a French Will, which refers just to French assets but make sure both Wills mention each other so that they don't revoke each other and for French Wills, as I've said, two types of French Will: the holographic Will which you write out yourself, handwritten, put location, date, time et cetera and all of that, number the pages and initial every single page and then you sign it without the need for witnesses or alternatively the other type of Will from a French notary, an ‘authentic Will’ where they draft a Will for you, just like UK, you sign it, two witnesses and its then registered to the central registry in France.

Quote a complex little subject there, but I hope that gives you a flavour of French Wills. Any questions, as ever, do come back to me. Thanks very much for watching.”

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