French Wills

Question

I want to include my French property in my Will. How do I go about doing this?

Answer

The Panorama programme about Will writers only served to highlight the care required when drafting your Will - Not only must it clearly express your wishes, but it must also be couched in the appropriate legal terms.

Don't forget that if you own a property in France, whether you are habitually resident in France, the UK or elsewhere, French succession law will govern what happens to that property on your death. The importance of taking specialist legal advice as to how French succession law applies to your particular circumstances must not be underestimated. Armed with such advice you are then ready to make your Will.

Whilst you can simply insert provisions into your English Will (or into a Codicil) dealing with your French property, from the point of view of the French Notary who will be winding up your French estate it is usually preferable to have a separate French Will in place. It simplifies the Notary's job, making the whole process more efficient and often less costly, not least because it avoids the need to have your English Will translated.

The simplest way of making a French Will is to write it out, by hand, in French. Known as a "Testament Olographe", to be valid it must be written, dated and signed entirely in the testator's handwriting. No witnesses are required. Care must always be taken to ensure that your French Will does not revoke any English (or other) Will you may have written, and vice versa.

Once you have written out your Will in French, it should be lodged with a French Notary with a request that they hold it for you and register it with the French Central Wills Registry in Nantes. When the time comes your family can then ask a French Notary to search the Register and locate the whereabouts of your Will.

In France it is also possible to make a "Testament Public", which is a Will made by deed in front of two Notaries, or one Notary and two witnesses. However, this is not always convenient, or indeed for some people possible, as it requires you to travel to France and attend the Notary's office.

In the majority of cases it is therefore advisable to make a handwritten French Will, under the advice and guidance of qualified solicitors specialising in French law and covered by professional indemnity insurance.

This article first appeared in Issue 83 of French Magazine – November/December 2010

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