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Heslop & Platt are specialists in the field of french planning law.
Based in the North of England, we have helped clients for over eight years with French legal advice and services.
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The team of lawyers at Heslop & Platt regularly produces articles for a variety of websites and specialist publications.
Here is a selection of the articles we have written.

Please ensure you contact us for specific advice as the information contained in our articles is of necessity general and must not be relied upon without additional guidance from a French Law Specialist firm such as ours.

Call of Duties

Question

My husband has recently died. We own a holiday home in France but our main residence is in Yorkshire. There is no mortgage. We have two grown up children. I don’t really know where I stand legally and what tax may be payable in France. Can you help please?

Answer

Even though your husband was resident in the UK at the time of his death, French law will apply to his share of the French house. The first point to check is how your joint ownership of the property was structured. If you have a "tontine clause" in your purchase deed or if you had adopted the French marriage regime of "universal community", you will become the sole legal owner of the property and your children’s interests will be postponed until after your death.

However, if you did not take steps to put either of the above two structures in place, it is likely that you and your husband owned the property half each "en indivision". Ownership "en indivision" is the default method of joint ownership in French law and equates to owning the property as tenants in common under English law. In the absence of any instructions to the contrary, this is what the notary will have put in the purchase deed when you bought the property.

The next aspect to consider is your children; on the basis that you own the property "en indivision", your two adult children are "reserved heirs" under French law and will each be entitled to inherit 1/3 of your late husband’s 1/2 share in the French house (i.e. 2/6 of the whole property). Your children will therefore become joint owners of the property with you and must be consulted before you take any steps in terms of selling, mortgaging or letting the property.

In the absence of a French Will modifying the standard position, you can choose between one of the following options in respect of your husband’s half share in the property:

  1. You can take 1/4 of your husband’s half share outright plus a life interest in the remaining 3/4; or
  2. You can take a life interest in the whole of your husband’s half share.

A life interest is the right to use and enjoy the property for the rest of your life and to receive any rental income generated by it. In this situation, your children would not be able to insist on the sale of the property and cannot restrict your use of the property.

You will need to contact a notary in France to deal with the succession. This can be the same notary who acted when you bought the property but it doesn’t have to be.

Once you have provided the notary with all the relevant paperwork and information he will draw up a series of documents so as to record your husband’s death and to transfer ownership of the property into the joint names of you and your children.

Inheritance tax in France is payable by the beneficiaries of the deceased and not by the deceased’s estate. The good news is however that there is no inheritance tax payable between spouses and so you will not have to pay any tax in France. Children currently have an inheritance tax allowance of 156,974 Euros each and so unless the value of the property passing to them exceeds this figure, they will not pay any inheritance tax in France either.

This is really just a snapshot of the application of French succession law and tax; the biggest hurdle for most British owners of French property is the language difficulty. A UK based French law specialist will guide you through the process and should make a difficult time a little less painful.

This article first appeared in Issue 80 of French Magazine – May/June 2010

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