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If I gain dual nationality will French law apply to my will?

Every other day, we share a reader question from our help guide, Inheritance Law and Wills in France. Today's question is about nationality and wills.

Question

Are there implications if I take French (dual) nationality and am resident in France when I die? Will my will be able to be processed as if I was in Britain? Or will the French insist it is processed by French law?

Answer

Solicitor Barbara Heslop says: The purpose of the regulation is to simplify the administration of a deceased person’s estate by providing that the law of the state of the individual’s “last habitual residence” will govern their worldwide estate.

However in member states which adopted the regulation it gives individuals the option of declaring by will that he or she wishes the law of the country of which he or she is a national to apply instead. Individuals with dual or multiple nationality are free to choose which state’s law they want to govern their worldwide estate, including also the law of a non-EU member state. While this is what the EU regulation says, some experts did wonder whether taking French nationality might possibly pose problems when the legal change came in (though Connexion understands that this has not so far proved to be the case). This was due to the fact that for most purposes France considers a dual national to be French and disregards other nationalities.

Gerard Barron, an honorary avocat from Boulogne-sur-Mer, who is a dual French-British national, said, however, that France now appears to be taking a ‘strict interpretation’ of the regulation (ie. interpreting it to the letter of the wording) and so it appears likely that in general there will be no problem.

Having said that, he added that if a disinherited child tries to challenge the choice of UK law in the French courts (particularly with regard to any French property), they might still try to take advantage of the fact you are French, and at this stage, with no court decisions on the issue, it is hard to state the outcome with complete certainty.

The wording of the regulation also contains a so-called ‘public policy’ exception, which allows for a rule contained in a chosen foreign legal system to be disregarded where its application would be ‘manifestly incompatible with the public policy of the member state concerned’, in this case, France. However Mr Barron said he thought this was unlikely to be applied to most situations relating to dual nationality. “I believe that in this case the exception would probably only apply, subject to the courts’ opinion on a case-by-case basis, to someone whose country of origin is France and who, after publication of the regulation, obtained foreign (ie. British) nationality with the primary aim of sidestepping French inheritance rules.”

This article was first published in response to a reader query in The Connexion - October 2020.

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