Dated updated:

On 1 November 2021 a new law came into force in France limiting British testators’ freedom to leave French assets to whomever they wish in their Wills. This will have an impact on charities being left legacies of French assets, because in certain circumstances such legacies can now be challenged by the deceased’s children.

The Prior Position 

Since 2015, the European Succession Regulation (EU 650/2012 or ‘Brussels IV’) has allowed testators the option of choosing the law of their own nationality to apply to their French assets. This election of law has the effect of bypassing local French forced heirship rules, under which children are automatically entitled to a share of their parents’ estates. As the law of England & Wales provides testamentary freedom, it was possible for English & Welsh testators with assets in France to exclude their children from their Wills completely if they wished, for example by leaving everything to their spouse, or to charity, instead.  

The New Law – Article 913 of the French Civil Code

Under the new law, a child who does not inherit the amount dictated by the French forced heirship rules can claim compensation to be made out of the French assets – effectively superseding any election of law made in the Will.

In order to bring such a claim, the deceased or at least one of their children must have been either habitually resident in the EU, or EU nationals. So, this excludes estates of British nationals resident in the UK with holiday homes or other assets in France, if the children are also UK nationals and UK resident. 

What Lies Ahead

There is uncertainty as to how the new law will be applied in practice. It is also highly likely that it will be challenged on a European level, as it appears to directly contradict the terms of the EU Succession Regulation. 

However, any challenge and its outcome could take several years to be concluded. In the interim, charities entitled to a legacy of French assets should be aware that their entitlement may be affected if the children of the deceased bring a claim under the new law. 

If you have any queries or would like further information, please contact Raquel Ugalde, Associate Solicitor at raquelugalde@stoneking.co.uk.