Property succession

My wife, I am sorry to say, is very ill with terminal cancer. We have conjointly 3 properties - our residence principale plus 2 appartments we rent out to supplement our retirement. We have 2 grown up daughters. My question is: If (when) I become a widower can I opt for usufruit of our house and sell the other 2 appartments, or do all 3 have to be in usufruit, or all 3 sold?
Any info / clarification would be most appreciated
tia Phillip

So sorry to learn of your wife’s condition Philip.
This is a complex area some of which dependant upon the arrangements in place when purchasing the properties.
If, for example, you purchased ‘en tontine’ the principal residence at least will revert to the survivor of the partners in the purchase contract but I don’t know how the rental properties will fare in this regard.
The only sensible advice is to consult your notaire.

That’s an awful thing to have to cope with Phillip, both for you and your wife.
As Graham has mentioned, and no doubt others on here will try to give as much advice as possible, please do make an appointment to discuss things with your notaire.
Any other queries that you may have during this awful time, whatever they are, then please do remember that we on SF are here to listen and try to help.
My thoughts are with you both …

I’m very sorry to hear of your situation.
I assume your properties were all bought “en indivision” ie.50/50 -this is the usual form. If so , in the absence of any testamentary arrangements, you own 1/3 of all outright and can opt for the usufruit of the remaining 2/3, the title to which are shared by your daughters .
You are not bound to sell any of the properties .
If you wish to sell , you have to be in agreement with your daughters, who, are in principle , entitled to the value of their parts in the titles . This amounts to less than the full two thirds of the value , as the value of your life-interest (calculated on your age) is taken into account.
Assuming your daughters wish you to have the best outcome , they are both entitled to give you 100 000€ back free of french gift tax. If this does not cover what they have received from the sale of the properties , they can also give you periodic gifts , known as" présents d’usage", at "significant events " such as birthdays and Christmas. They should be of an amount affordable with reference to their wealth. These are not taxable and do not have to
be declared in France.
If you all have UK bank accounts , it would be best to use them for such gifts , as french banks report some payments from foreign sources to the taxman , and although these gifts are perfectly legal , you could get some annoying enquiries.
I hope this helps; but do discuss with a good english speaking notaire (take a copy of this post with you).

Edit; If your daughters give you money , or anything except real estate , each gift, regardless of what a notaire may say, does not have to be notarised (at considerable expense) but is simply declared by the recipient on form 2735 to the local tax office , and under 100 000€ is not taxable . One form for each gift. You only need the notaire for the succession and any subsequent sales of real estate.

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Surely you are not suggesting impropriety on the part of notaires…

Many thanks for your answers, I know its a complex situation when it comes to succession. But I always understood that everything bought during our marriage, was then split 50/50…i.e. I retain my 50% and as I have 2 daughters the other 50% is split into 3 x 1/3rd. Is this right or not?

This is a little confusing Patrick. If Philip owns 50% of the property now why will he own only 1/3 after his wife passes away? Presumably you mean the 50% owned by his wife will be split into thirds between himself and his daughters.

I know nothing about inheritance in France. However, I assume if Philip’s wife makes a UK will she can pass the whole of her share to her husband.

Apologies, @phillipcox for referring to you in the third person. I assume your wife is British so she can make a Will that allows for UK inheritance rules to apply. I understand though that French inheritance tax rules will apply regardless.

I think you need to urgently get some proper legal advice on this. Maybe @james or @fabien has a contact that could help.

You have my sympathies Philip, I know how hard this time is for you as I’m in a similar situation. I have the help of an Assistant Sociale for paperwork both now and for afterwards and, if you aren’t already in contact with one, I suggest you enquire at your Mairie as they have contact details. Also, have you contacted Cancer Support France? They can support you and even provide some help with translation/interpreting if you need it. My thoughts are with you.


@Guillaume_Barlet-Bat can advise you @phillipcox


Yes my remarks concerned only the 50% which I assumed was the OP’s entitlement. In total his title is to 66.6% of the whole of the real estate…
As regards a UK will; the procedure is to see a notaire and make a french will (in English if so wished) in which you opt for UK law for all your worldwide assets.
You then put in your wishes for your whole estate.
This procedure is new and can be complicated, and expensive, to administer.

See this from a french property website;:

" .For UK nationals resident in France (excluding Scottish nationals), France has adopted the EU Succession Regulation
Accordingly, you can elect for the law of your nationality to apply to the whole of your worldwide estate.

If you make a valid will nominating English law, your whole estate would be administered by a French notaire trying to apply English law. Again, this will cause complications, delays, expenses and uncertainty ."

Again the OP should be guided by a good notaire , but if the relationship with the daughters is good , I don’t see that he needs to go for the UK will route , which , in my opinion , is only really valuable for disinheriting children with whom there is a bad relationship.

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Many thanks Patrick. It clarifies the point on %ages for us. I don’t forsee any problem with my daughters, they are 2 lovely (grown up) girls. The other point is about usufruit or sale. Can we (for example) keep the main house in usufruit and sell the 2 apartments, or do all 3 properties have to be treated in tbe same way?

Thanks in advance


My neighbour is in a similar position with her siblings. They seem to be able to treat each property individually.

With the agreement of your daughters you can certainly do what you suggest , or indeed any combination , from selling all to keeping all in usufruit. Bear in mind that if you kept their parts of the apartments in usufruit you would be entitled to 100% of the rents.
Do take my posts to discuss with a notaire, when it is appropriate.
Best Regards,

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Many thanks again. We will certainly go the notaire route…


thanks for all your answers and clarifications….much appreciated

I’m sorry to read of your wife’s illness Philip. My wife passed away suddenly at the end of 2013 so I’ve been through the succession process here. We had property and assets here and in Dublin, where our one daughter was living and studying so it was complex and potentially expensive. The point I would like to make is that one needs a competent and empathetic notaire. We were fortunate with ours, who we already knew, but I’m not sure it’s a profession with consistently high standards.

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