French property law specialist from Kent, Furley Page, has urged people with property in France to review their Will, in order to ensure that their assets are distributed in accordance with their wishes after death. There are around 200,000 Britons who own a holiday home in France, and many more living in France, but many may not be aware of an EU Regulation that governs how the asset will be distributed on death.
Sarah Bogard, a Senior Solicitor specialising in French property law, said: “The provisions of the EU Succession Regulation, which came into effect in 2015, have a significant impact on the way that cross-border estates can be distributed on death. English law allows people to leave their estate assets to whomever they choose without the obligation to provide for close relatives. French law is based on civil law, and for successions the main principle is that children are protected heirs and shouldn’t be disinherited completely, so they will be entitled to a reserved portion of the estate.
“Many British couples who own a French property and who haven’t reviewed their Wills after buying often find that the property share will be inherited by the surviving spouse and the children, even if their Will provides for the surviving spouse to be the sole heir. For many, this may not turn out to be a problem, but for some it can be an unexpected and unwanted surprise.”
One purpose of the EU Succession Regulation was to harmonise the application of succession laws across the EU Member States. There is now a general rule applying where a person dies owning assets in an EU Member State, that the succession laws of the deceased person’s country of habitual residence are to apply. However, because the UK didn’t opt in to the Succession Regulation this means that for those habitually resident in the UK, French law would still apply to the distribution of the French property. .
The Succession Regulation allows a person to expressly declare in their Will for the succession laws of their country of nationality to apply to estate assets in the EU. Therefore, a person with British nationality (whose connections are with England) can choose to have English succession law apply to the French property. Thus, children’s inheritances can be delayed until the surviving parent’s death, or they could be left out completely.
Sarah continued: “This highlights the great importance of reviewing your Will if you own assets in France (or indeed any other EU Member State) to take into account the Succession Regulation. Brexit won’t change the way overseas property is treated for inheritance purposes, as the UK didn’t opt into the Regulation so the position is not expected to change on 1 January 2021.
“To ensure their wishes are carried out as they intend after death, British people who own a property in France should review their Will, particularly if they haven’t done so since 2015, or if they have made a Will with a legal adviser who doesn’t specialise in cross border estates.”
For a more detailed appraisal of the significance of the EU Succession Regulation for British people owning property in France, please see: https://www.furleypage.co.uk/brexit-and-wills-for-french-property/