CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today CLICK HERE

Everything you need to know before making a French will

PUBLISHED: 16:17 02 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:17 02 October 2017

All you need to know about French wills © Entienou / Istock

All you need to know about French wills © Entienou / Istock


Before making a French will make sure you understand the French and European regulations and the different types of French wills

Benoît Duchan is a notaire based in Chalabre, Aude

To make a will that will be considered valid under French law, you must be mentally capable and at least 18 years old, although there are provisions in place for minors to make a will from the age of 16. The will only applies to assets which the testator legally owns at the time of death.

Can I have a French will and a UK will?

France has signed the 1961 Hague Convention concerning wills and therefore recognises wills that are valid under UK law. This also means that a UK will can cover French assets and that a French will can also affect assets located in the UK, but also that a French will can cancel a UK will and vice versa.

It is therefore very important to mention to your lawyer or notaire who helps you with your French or UK will if you already have another will in place in the other country. Otherwise, if you start your new will with the standard “This is my last will and testament; I cancel every other previous will...”, this automatically cancels the will you have already drawn up in the other country.

If you want to maintain the other country’s will, it has to be specifically mentioned. For instance, you could say: “I cancel every previous will except the will made on such-and-such a date in France (or in the UK) that I specifically maintain.”


Don’t miss

The legal process of buying a French property

All you need to know about matrimonial regimes before buying a French property


Is it better to have one will or separate wills for different countries?

Even if a single will can cover assets in both countries, it may be recommended in some situations to have two separate wills, one for each country, because the inheritance and tax laws in the two countries may be different. French law, for instance, does not recognise the ‘trust’ system or the powers that a UK ‘executor’ of a will has under UK law. This may cause problems, especially for registering the transfer of the French property. In terms of taxes, a discretionary trust is heavily taxed in France, even if the beneficiaries are the children.

What about the European regulations?

The European Succession Regulation 650/2012, which came into force on 17 August 2015, allows you to elect your national law of succession to apply to all your assets including those located in France. If you wish to elect your national law of succession, and for it to be recognised in France, it must be written into your will. However, the UK has opted out from this EU regulation and therefore its application is not yet guaranteed. Please note that this regulation is not a tax treaty and so the French tax regulations would still apply.


Don’t miss

How do European inheritance laws impact me?

Succession tax in France


What are the different types of French will?

Under French law a will can be ‘authentique’, ‘mystique’, ‘international’ or ‘olographe’.

An authentique will is dictated in French by the testator to a French notaire, who writes it up, and is signed in the presence of two witnesses or another notaire.

A mystique will is handed to a French notaire in a sealed envelope in the presence of two witnesses.

An international will can be handwritten by the testator himself or typed, not necessarily in French, and signed in the presence of two witnesses in front of a French notaire.

An olographe will – the most common type in France – is written entirely by hand, dated and signed by the testator himself. It is not signed in the presence of a notaire or witnesses. French law considers that the fact that it is entirely written by hand by the testator is sufficient. It can be written in any language, not necessarily in French. It is, of course, recommended that the testator gets legal advice before drawing it up. The testator should give the original of the handwritten will to a French notaire in order for it to be kept and registered at the ‘fichier central des dispositions de dernières volontés’, the French national registry of last wills and testaments. This formality is not a condition of validity of the will but is to guarantee that it will be found and used.

In conclusion, I highly recommend that you seek legal advice from a specialist before you make your will concerning any French assets. This can be a very cost-effective way to avoid any undue distress and confusion for your beneficiaries.

Don’t miss

New European inheritance rules explained

3 types of joint property ownership in France

France’s tontine clause

More from French Property

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ruth Wood looks at the French property hotspots where British buyers search for their dream home

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Seen a bargain French property that just needs a bit of work to turn it into a dream home? If your heart is set on a renovation project, do your sums first, advises architect Nick Adams

Read more
New-build property in France
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A new apartment development is available for investment in the Alpine expat haven of Annecy in Haute-Savoie

Read more
French Alps
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Why your trusty high-street bank might not be the place when it comes to getting the best currency deal

Read more
Buying guides
Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Don’t be bamboozled by strange foreign exchange terms – this handy currency transfer jargon buster explains all!

Read more
Buying guides
Thursday, August 23, 2018

Is a ‘notary public’ in the UK the same as a ‘notaire’ in France?

Read more
Buying guides
Monday, July 23, 2018

Dealing with a loved one dying is difficult in any circumstances, let alone in a different country. To simplify the process as much as possible, here are the administrative procedures and legalities you need to know about when dealing with a death in France

Read more
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

With income tax soon to be deducted at source in France, how might this affect you?

Read more
Working in France
Friday, August 24, 2018

Find out how the new flat tax of 30% on income from financial investments works in France

Read more
Thursday, December 6, 2018

Live the high life with our pick of impressive properties for sale across France – some are budget-friendly too!

Read more
Buying guides
Subscribe for

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now