Last Will and Testimony in France
Help and tips about making a French will.
Q. Is the Will I have in the UK be acceptable here in France, or do I have to make a French one?
A. It is usually advisable to have two separate Wills if you have assets in the UK and France. Trying to prove a French Will in the UK or an English Will in France may mean that the process will be slower and more expensive. There is also a risk that a UK Will may contradict mandatory French inheritance laws. Accordingly, it is highly recommended to have two separate Wills. You should also consider instructing a qualified French solicitor to draft your French Will.
Q. If so can I do it myself, similar to my UK one, have executives and have it witnessed?
A. Your French Will can simply be handwritten. This is called an olographic Will or "Testament Olographe". Such a Will is perfectly valid so long as you entirely hand-write, date and sign it. There is no need for your signature to be witnessed. You can appoint some executives, but this is optional.
Q. Do I have to send the original anywhere here in France, or keep it in my safe and let my Executives know where the original is?
Your Will should be kept in a safe place and you ought to let your executives know where the original is. You can have your French Will recorded with the Last Will and Testament's Registrar ("ADSN") in France. This ensures that, in the event of your death, any notary dealing with transfer of your French property will become aware of your French Will's existence (not necessarily your French Will's contents though). There is no legal obligation to have your French Will recorded however.
Q. As it will be in English, will this suffice the French authorities or do I need to have it French?
A. A Will written in English is perfectly valid, but translation into French, by a sworn translator established in France, will eventually need to be arranged. The notary in charge with your French Probate should take care of this. Alternatively, you can instruct a solicitor to draft your Will directly in French.
Q. If I want to leave a legacy to a charity and say it’s an English one, will the charity get the proceeds free of all French Taxes?
A. Gifts to Charity can be tax-exempt provided the Charity in question is "Reconnue d'Utilité Publique", i.e. recognized as being of Public interest, by the French Government. The Charity would need to be registered in France in order for such recognition to be granted.
Q. Is it possible to set up a Will trust here in France like the ones in the UK, so that both spouses can use the IHT exemption?
A. The French Parliament recently enacted a law that finally institutes the “Fiducie”, the equivalent of a trust under Common Law. It allows an independent patrimony to be created that is not that of the settler but which does not form part of that of the fiduciary either. Indeed, the latter is obliged to keep the transferred property, rights and securities separate from its own patrimony, which was impossible under French law until recently. Only legal entities, such as Limited Companies for example, may create a French Trust however.
Q. Do I have to list worldwide assets, or can I use my UK Will to dispose of these items and the French one just looks after the French Assets?
A. Unless you are domiciled in France for tax purposes at the time of your death, your French Will should only cover your French assets and you can leave your UK Will to deal with all other assets.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fabien Cordiez
French lawyer & solicitor. We specialise in providing legal services to English-speaking clients from around the world. The firm's main language is English and we have many years of experience dealing with French law.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.