Does UK probate apply to a property in France?
- Credit: Archant
When applying for probate in the UK, does it also apply to a property that the deceased owned in France? Barbara Heslop explains the legal process involved
Q. My father passed away recently and we are in the process of applying for probate in the UK. He also owned a house in France - would the probate apply to this too or is there a different process we would need to follow in order to deal with the house in France?
Barbara Heslop, Director of Heslop & Platt Solicitors & French Law Specialists replies:
In answering your question, I am assuming that your father was the sole owner of the property in France and that he did not leave a separate French will. A Grant of Probate issued by the Probate Registry for England and Wales is for use in England and Wales only - not for the French property. However, the notaire appointed to deal with your father's French property may well ask for a copy.
In France, when an owner of property dies, there are various "succession formalities" which the deceased's heirs must arrange via a French notaire. Often this will be the notaire who dealt with the property purchase although any notaire can be instructed.
Given that there is a Probate application underway in the UK, this means your father must have left a valid English will. Since the EU Succession Regulation (often referred to as Brussels IV), came into force in August 2015, the French notaire will ask to see a copy of the English will and may insist on a certified translation.
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They will then examine the will to see if it includes a choice of law. The EU Succession Regulation entitles individuals to make an election of the law of their nationality to govern their worldwide estate and therefore if your father's will contains either an express election of English law or a choice of law can be implied from the reading of the will, then the notaire will follow the provisions of the English will and transfer ownership of your father's French property to the named beneficiary/beneficiaries.
If your father's will does not constitute a choice of English law, then the succession formalities in France will be dealt with according to French intestacy rules. You and any siblings of yours have reserved heirship status and are entitled to a fixed proportion of your father's French property depending on how many children (natural or adopted) he had. If he left a surviving spouse, she will be entitled to receive at least a quarter of the property.
The notaire will then draft a series of deeds and documents:
- Dépôt de testament - the lodging of a copy of your father's English will to formally 'open' the succession
- Acte de notoriété - setting out your father's details and beneficiaries
- Attestation immobilière - to inform the Land Registry of your father's death and update the Land Registry records with the name(s) of the new owner(s)
- Declaration de succession - the French inheritance tax declaration.
If your father's beneficiaries cannot or prefer not to travel to France to sign the required documents, it is possible to sign a French power of attorney in the UK which will enable the notaire's office to sign the documents on their behalf.
If your father is survived by your mother (or stepmother), she will not be liable to pay any inheritance tax in France on the share of the property she inherits. You and any siblings are each entitled to an inheritance tax-free allowance of €100,000. This means that you will only be liable to pay inheritance tax in France if the value of the share of the French property you each inherit exceeds €100,000.
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