Death is an expensive business

Whatever else you do in France (or anywhere else for that matter) don't die without making sure there is provision for your wishes.

Like everything else the cost of dying has gone up - hospital, morgue,undertaker,cars,pall-bearers,coffin,flowers,plot in the cemetery/crematorium, admin fees,headstone/tomb,notaire fees. Until you have to deal with it, you don't realise what's involved and the cost of everything - scary stuff!

So here is my rough and ready guide to Death in France and here's hoping you don't have to use it for a very long time.

1. Property - be aware that a spouse does not automatically inherit in France. The droits de Succession are in favour of any children you may have (natural or adopted) and if you do not have a tontine as part of your property deeds or have subsequently not had a donation drawn up then as a spouse you could lose your property on the death of your loved one. Talk to your friendly neighbourhood notaire - it's free until he puts pen to paper - for advice.

2. Where you live/die in France gives you the right to a grave plot. If you die away from your home, say shopping in town or in a hospital in the city, then your family have the choice of where you are to be buried -the ville you live in or the ville you die in. The law states you have the right to burial ground.

The body can stay at home if he/she died there or the funeral director can remove it. If your loved one died in hospital or in another place they can be brought home. Again your choice so long as there is no criminal/state investigation. If the coffin is to rest at home it will be closed by the funeral director and then sealed with a wax seal by someone from the Mairie before transport for cremation/burial.

3. If cremation is your choice of disposal, check with your local Mairie on paperwork you may have to complete beforehand. It's like a living will of sorts to say that it is your choice to be cremated. There are cases where cremation will not be allowed by the state e.g. mort naturelle on the paperwork and there will be a full forensic investigation so the procureur will not allow cremation until after this is completed. They allow burial in a family plot or in the cave communal during the investigation after which cremation is allowed following disinterment. Difficult choices in the circumstances so try to think ahead.

4. Rough costings of funerals is a difficult one so I'll just give you my experiences. You can always ask a pompes funebres for a quote to give you some idea on ballpark figures.

Cremation (including coffin,family car,hearse,urn,memorial book and thank you cards) 4000€ (2006 prices)

Funeral (including plot,fees,coffin,hearse,morgue,pall-bearers) 2500€

- headstone 2500€

- headstone with grave surround and marble gravier 4500€

- enclosed family tomb 10,000 - 15,000€ depending on size and design

5. Be prepared for paperwork the likes of which you have never seen! There is a piece of paper for everything and in triplicate.

6. Death certificate - does not have a cause of death on it and this can give you problems if you have to send a copy to the UK for things like pensions,tax,shares etc. The Brits like to have a reason as to why you died, in France you don't need to know as you are not a Doctor. If someone asks for a cause of death then your own GP (or consultant if it was due to long term illness) will write a letter with cause but it will be given to you sealed and you may be charged for it.

7. Name changes can be harrowing. As a woman your mail will start coming addressed to Madame X (maiden name) epouse Y (married name). Obviously nothing changes if you are not married but be aware of mail addressed to your partner still arriving for a long time after the death - it can make you wobble.

Bank accounts in joint names will remain in joint names for 3 months but you can access it as normal. Accounts in the name of the deceased will be frozen for the 3 months after you present an acte de deces and a certificat d'heredite to the bank then changed into your name automatically if there is no barrier to this e.g. a tutelle (a protection order) You get the certificat d'heredite from your Mairie along with the acte de deces.

8. Children - this is a difficult one. You may find yourself with no rights to your children if you are in a problem situation. The state has the right to remove your children if you are no position to provide proper care. This scared me I have to say but it is very rare after the death of a parent. Just something to be aware of when papers drop through the door asking if you have a tutelle in place. Read up on the law just so you are aware of your rights.

9. Who needs to be informed? - The Mairie, CAF, place of work,pension agencies,all other social agencies - CPAM,Pole Emploi etc ,banks,all utilities if the bill is in the name of the deceased.

Well I can't think of anything else at the moment but I'll add to this if I do. If anyone has any questions I will do my very best to answer them.

i get the impression that it was very brave of you Jacqui to make this post - thank you

Dear Jacqui,

I have read your post with attention and would like to add a few elements.

You mention that it is from time to time necessary to protect the surviving spouse (in particular when children from a previous relationship are involved). A surviving spouse is indeed entitled to a minimum of 25% of the deceased spouse’s estate. Nevertheless, as you have rightly pointed out, this share can be increased.
Unfortunately, when dealing with British clients, notaires often automatically include a tontine clause which may not always be adapted to the couple’s situation. When dealing with my clients’ estate planning, I regularly have to “undo” a tontine clause before applying other solutions and this can be a costly deed (e.g. notaire’s fees of about €300 for a property worth €100,000).
The alternative mentioned (gift between spouses – donation entre époux) is also proving very popular even with French nationals but can most of the time be replaced by a much cheaper solution (a registered will) that would provide the same rights to the surviving spouse.

Many thanks for stressing that these issues must be anticipated and for sharing your experience.


Sarah - you are right the prices are quite frightening but appear to be universal. I just priced up with 5 different companies and they all came up with roughly the same figures give or take 100€. All fees can be taken from the estate of the deceased unless you choose to pay up front and have all of the estate at a later date. However be aware probate can take up to a year.

Steve - very good point. It's worth you keeping a record of all these sort of protections and keeping them in a file where your partner/spouse/family can easily find them especially if like lots of people financial details are kept separate from your nearest and dearest. When my mother in law died in September we discovered that her husband had opened bank accounts that no-one was aware of - not even her - and although the bank had changed the name on them automatically she had no record of them. Automatic name changes will occur if you present a certificate d'heredite to the bank (after the exclusion period) but this is not much good if you are unaware of exactly what is held by the bank.

Hi Jacqui,

A very distressing read, but thankyou for posting. I did wonder about insurance though - and the fact that many people will have it without realising so. I use two banks in France: neither very good; one I despise. To use them I have to pay a small monthly fee. To have a small overdraft facility (which they require I have!) I have to make a further quarterly payment (15€). Now within this there is a "garantie urgence" which provides 7500€ on my death. It may be that other people have a similar facility but their dependents may not be aware of it. And as the deceased can't ask, and as the banks don't automatically make the transfer.......Well, perhaps it's worth looking at.


Thanks, really informative.

The prices are shattering!

Thank you very much for posting this. I suppose cost comes out of the deceased's estate unless there's an insurance policy.

Hi Catharine

Didn't mean to be depressing but at least if you have a little knowledge it doesn't come as such a shock when you come face to face with it all - and sadly it comes to us all eventually x

Dear Jacqui - thank you so much for posting this. A horrible and painful subject but one that we all need to be aware of. Thanks again C xx