French property, English Will

My wife owns a house in Normandy in her own right, I have no title in it for reasons of inheritance (a previous marriage with adult children). She also owns our English property, again in her own right.

In her Will, her English property goes to our three adult children in equal parts. At present, her French property is not the object of any written Will. She thinks that under French inheritance laws it will go automatically to her/our children (not my children of another marriage), but I’m not so sure, and we need advice. Should she include it in her English Will? Or should she write a French Will and, if she does, should that Will include her English estate?

We are domiciled in France and don’t intend to go back to UK. We are both in our seventies.

Any advice will be very much appreciated.

Your wife is correct. Under French law the property passes directly down the bloodline, ie to HER children (ie she is named as their mother on their birth certificates).

Your children from a previous marriage are not related to your wife under French law, and if they were to inherit from her they would pay succession tax at the non-relative rate, ie approx 1,000€ allowance and 60% of everything else. As compared to her own children who have (from memory) a 100,000€ tax free allowance each and then tax starting at maybe 10% or thereabouts.

Hi Peter,

Anna’s answer is correct but you should know that your wife can apply for the British Law be the inheritance rule for her French property. It is called a tontine and should be signed in front of a notary, who by the way will advise you better than I do.
The issue is that one can select another EU MEMBER STATE’s law from which he is a national. And after Brexit, the UK will not be a member State anymore.

Hope it will help.


Under the Brussels IV protocol (which became law in August 2015) you can make a will (& therefore the law) of your country of citizenship apply in a signatory country. France is one such signatory. Brexit, should it happen, has no effect on this as the UK is not a signatory due to it’s non-existent forced succesion laws. This is nothing to do with a clause tontine & you do not need to have a French will at all, though there could be reasons for doing so (or for one partner to have one, but for the other to stay with their country of citizenship).

None of the above effects the tax liability of beneficaries of your will - they will be taxed according to French law on inherited French property. This isn’t too much of an issue with natural children as the allowances are quite high, but stepchildren get to pay 60% after a derisory 1500€ (approx.) allowance. We’ve been through all this with a notaire so, hopefully, I’m talking accurately. However, always seek professional legal advice & never rely on forum lawyers. Notaires have to give advice for free, so don’t be shy.

Thanks to all who replied so quickly with information.

A follow-up question: is the inheritance of the French property likely to be easier for the beneficiaries to manage if the will bequeathing it is drawn up by a Notaire rather than by a UK solicitor?

If the French property is included in the English will, would that present our children with difficulties if/when they decided to sell it? Would their title to ownership be recognised by the French authorities?

I understand that your advice implies no legal authority on your part, but it’s useful to get other people’s experience before going to a specialist.

We ain’t figuring on popping off just yet :), but it’s as well to tidy up loose ends…:relieved:

French property inheritance will be always handled by a French notaire. All you can do in an English will is specify your heirs, which French law will respect as long as it doesn’t actually contradict French law. The actual inheritance process is carried out as per French law, nothing at all to do with the UK. The notaire will deal with the transfer of property ownership and any succession tax due. Also possessions including cars, money in the bank, life insurance policies… All done by the notaire.

Thanks Anna, very concise and clear! :blush:

[quote=“Anna, post:6, topic:15336”]
All you can do in an English will is specify your heirs, which French law will respect as long as it doesn’t actually contradict French law. The actual inheritance process is carried out as per French law, nothing at all to do with the UK.
[/quote]Which contradicts what Brussels IV is all about, or have I (& my notaire) misunderstood things?

But how can you “execute” an inheritance that’s subject to French succession tax (which is non negotiable as I understand it?) under English law, ie putting it through probate, without also making it subject to English inheritance tax which is an integral part of the probate process? It will unavoidably have to go through the tax process in France at some stage. So I don’t see how it would be in your interests to put it through probate in the UK but maybe I’ve missed the point and that is how it has to be done. Confused now.

French Resident …born outside France…with an estate here, there, in no matter which country.

With your French Notaire… you make a Will…the wording says that you choose to use the Inheritance Laws of your Nationality (rather than France)…and then you say who you want to give your stuff to.

When you die…the French Notaire will execute your Will… your stuff will be inherited as per your Will…by whoever you have named… totally disregarding French Inheritance Rules of Succession.

But the Inheritance Tax will be charged here in France, using French Inheritance Succession Tax rules.

Thus, provided you make the Nationality of birth choice…as above… you can leave your worldwide estate to the Dogs’ home… but said dogs will have to pay 60% Inheritance Tax to the French Gov as they are not related to you … :wink:


I thought if you leave it to a French dogs home, the lucky doggies would be able to spend it all on Chum (or whatever they eat) because registered charities don’t pay inheritance tax. Not sure about non-French charities.

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Ha ha Anna… you know what I meant…:relaxed:

Enjoyable discussion and it’s very good to get so much experienced discussion, and so good-natured too. You guys seem to know each other very well, and enjoy chewing things over vigorously in the French intellectual tradition, which the British also share. Thanks again to all.

Our notaire when we bought our property (Maitre Poulin of Vire) was, we thought, very impressive and soooo courteous, so we shan’t have any qualms about approaching him again for advice on inheritance, as advised on this forum.

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[quote=“peter_g, post:14, topic:15336”]Our notaire when we bought our property (Maitre Poulin of Vire)…[/quote]There’s a coincidence - he’s the notaire we go to for advice too! Highly recommend.

Yes, Maitre Poulin struck me as being a particularly assiduous and thorough man. I’d never met a notaire before, and I thought the Acte de Vente might be a bit of an ordeal for my wife and me, but he was very gracious and welcoming, and the experience was something of a Gallic treat. I’d practised a few words of thanks in French for his professional services, which he acknowledged with a nice smile and a nod of the head. When we left his cabinet, he shook hands with us, and he said to me (in French) “if you speak like that, you will do very well here” which was a great boost to my confidence, as I only had schoolboy French, dating back to the 1950s.

He also later gave us a handsome refund on his advance fee, which was a very nice surprise!

Hello Peter.
I’ve seen some very good advice here.
May I just add that you can go and see your local notaire, for free, and they will give you all the info you need.
A Notaire is paid by the “Acte” not by time spent.
Prepare your papers, ring around to find one that speaks English if you can’t speak French (or not very well, you know what I mean).
Best of luck, it’s not an easy subject.