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France - Wills

If you are living in France there is a system known as ‘forced heirship’, which means that you need to leave a certain amount of your estate (reserve legale) to certain people (héritiers réservataires). All of your children will fall into this category and your spouse will do if there are no children. The rest of the estate can be divided up as you please, so for this reason it is advisable to have a will if you are living in France.

If you have one child they will inherit one half of your estate and the other half you can dispose of as you wish. With two children it is a third of the estate that can be passed on to other people and with three children it is a quarter.

France will recognise a will made in another country and one that refers to estate in other countries. However, it is advisable to make a French will if you are living in the country permanently or if you own a house or land there. This is considered to be ‘immovable’ property. Property that can be moved such as monies and bank accounts can be divided up in a will that has been made in any country.

In order to make a will in France you must be at least 18 years old or a minimum of 16 if you are legally responsible for yourself. You must be the legal owner of all items mentioned in the will and you must be considered to be of sound mind at the time of making the will. If there is any dispute the court will decide if you were of sound mind so it is better to ensure that this is clear at the time of writing the will.

There are three types of will that can be made in France. There is the holographic will, known as the testament olographe, the authentic will (testament authentique) and the third type is known as the mystic will (testament mystique). It is the legal responsibility of the person making the will to ensure that it is up to date at all times and accurately reflects their estate. As in many other countries, only the most recent will is considered to be valid.

The holographic will is very cheap but it is probably one of easiest types of legal document to overturn if there are any errors in it. It must state exactly where and when it was created, must be hand-written by the will owner (on plain paper), each page must be numbered and be initialled by the writer and must be signed in order for it to be valid. The wording also needs to be precise, beginning ‘This is my will’ and include the full name of the writer. It should also show full names and addresses of the beneficiaries as well as giving details of the family relationship if this applies. It should also show information on the executor and notary, if these have already been chosen. This type of will does not need to have witnesses and there is no legal requirement for it to be written in French.

The authentic will is one that must be created with witnesses. This can be two notaries or if you prefer two witnesses and a notary. The will owner must dictate the will and the notary will write or type it out. It has to then be read and signed in the presence of the witnesses. The notary will keep the will and it is then registered with the FCDDV (Fichier Central des Dispositions de Dernières Volontés). There is a fee for this service but this is the type of will that is considered to be the most legally secure.

The final type of will is the Mystic will and is very rarely seen in France as it is considered to be a complex document. It can be typed or handwritten by the will owner and it is then sealed in the presence of two witnesses and a notary. The content of the will is secret until the will owner dies.

It is very easy to modify or cancel a will. A new will ensures that an older one is invalid and codicils can add any alterations that you may need.

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