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Death and taxes: What you need to know about estate planning in France

Thinking about death is never fun, but it will come to us all and differences in French inheritance laws and tax rules can make things difficult for foreigners.

Death and taxes: What you need to know about estate planning in France
Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP

Estate planning is a notoriously tricky subject, intertwining both inheritance law and complex tax structures. For foreigners – especially those with assets outside of France – there is an added layer of complication.

The Local spoke with US-based attorney G Warren Whitaker, who specialises in estate planning for expats, to help understand what foreigners should think about to ensure that everything goes smoothly for their heirs. 

Inheritance law

First of all, you need to think about who you want to leave your estate to, and whether that is allowed under French law. 

France applies forced heirship, which means that children are automatically entitled to a certain portion of the deceased person’s estate and under French law, you cannot disinherit your children.

This doesn’t just apply to French people, it can also cover people who are legal residents in France.

Thanks to EU succession regulations (Brussels IV), foreign nationals living in France can add a clause (codicil) to their will stating that they wish to see their estate handled by the law of their country – in which case you would not be governed by French rules on inheritance for children.

READ MORE: Wills, estates and notaires – what you need to know about French inheritance law

But if you die in France as a resident, without having made a will, then the French Civil Code will apply when your assets are being divided up.

Even if you have added the codicil to your will, this does not take away the requirement to pay inheritance tax in France (more on that below).

Tax obligations and residency

Once you have established a valid will, there’s then the question of inheritance tax – and here the thing that is important is whether you have tax residency in France.

The key thing to know here is that ‘tax residency’ and residency for immigration purposes (ie your visa or carte de séjour) are not the same thing. Tax residency can be an automatic status based on simply being in a country for a certain period of time. 

The French government considers you a tax resident if you either: live in France, work in France, or have the centre of your economic interests in France. 

By the French government’s definition, living in France and having it as your main residence means that you stay here more than six months a year – so for example second-home owners who have a six-month visa and also pay visits under the 90-day rule could find themselves becoming tax residents in France.

EXPLAINED: The rules on tax residency in France

In terms of which country is responsible for taxing your estate after your death, the answer depends on whether you own property in France and whether you are a tax resident.

In France, inheritance taxes can range from 0 to 60 percent based on the person’s relationship with the deceased. In contrast to the US and UK, it is the recipient who is responsible for paying tax (based on the amount they receive) rather than entire estate being taxed prior to distribution.

The standard rule is that if you are considered to be a resident of France, then your entire estate, including assets located outside of France, can be subject to inheritance tax by French authorities (subject to international agreements and bilateral tax treaties).

If you are not a resident of France, only your assets located in France (for example a French property) would be subject to French inheritance taxes.

Fiscal domicile

In very specific cases, certain people may be able to maintain a fiscal domicile in their home country rather than France on the basis of the tax treaty between France and their home country.

For Americans specifically, Paris-based tax attorney, Jérôme Assouline, who is admitted to the bar in both Paris and New York, told The Local that it is possible as a result of the tax treaty for Americans who intend to only live in France for a short period of time to maintain the US as their fiscal domicile (meaning their inheritance would be taxed by the United States).

This option is only available for the first five years one lives in France, and “it is only available to those who can prove they are only temporarily in France,” Assouline explained. It is used by posted workers or people on a fixed-term contract who plan to return to the US.

To qualify you must be able to show intent to return to the United States, and it is only available for the first five years of residency in France. It is recommended that people in this situation work with a tax professional.

Tax rates

If you are covered by French inheritance taxes, then there is a sliding scale depending on the value of the estate and your relationship to the deceased.

The taxable proportion is equal to the taxable assets of the estate minus the tax-free allowance.

The tax-free allowance is determined based on family relationships with the deceased;

  • The surviving spouse or civil partner is exempt from inheritance tax
  • For children and parents of the deceased, up to €100,000 can be given tax-free 
  • For siblings, the maximum of tax-free inheritance is €15,932
  • For nephews and nieces, the value is €7,967
  • For all other heirs (eg friends or neighbours) the non-taxable maximum is €1,594 

After you have determined how much you can receive tax-free, anything above that amount is taxed on a rate dependent on your relationship.

For children and parents – direct heirs – the scale for inheritance after the first €100,000 is shown below, as well as for siblings after €15,932.


Other relatives, including cousins, are taxed at a flat rate of 55 percent, while all other heirs are taxed at the flat rate of 60 percent.

So for example if you left a sibling €16,932 the first €15,932 would be tax free. They would then pay tax on the remaining €1,000 at the sibling rate of 35 percent, giving them a total tax bill of €350. 

However if you left the same amount to a friend, only the first €1,594 is tax free. They would therefore pay tax on €15,338 at the non-relatives tax rate of 60 percent, giving them a total tax bill of €9,202. 

READ ALSO Who is responsible for paying inheritance tax in France?

Wealth tax

On top of inheritance tax, France has a wealth tax, which can be applied to people with total assets worth more than €1.3 million. However, in this case, the length of residency plays a role. 


“If you are resident in France for more than five years, then French wealth taxes can be applied to your global assets” explained Whitaker.

Prior to five years, the French wealth tax considers assets based in France, not abroad.

Beware of alternative structures to avoid inheritance law

Foreigners are often encouraged to seek out alternative options for avoiding French inheritance law, such as purchasing a home under the SCI structure, adding a tontine clause into the deed, or starting an Assurance Vie.

An SCI, or a société civile immobilière, is a non-trading real estate company that allows people to own property such as a second home through shares of a company, rather than under their own name. 

However, owning and operating an SCI can be especially complex for foreigners, particularly when picking the correct tax regime. Paris-based notaire, Laure Gaschignard, told The Local in a previous interview that “an SCI is a large commitment. It means you will agree to run a company, and that involves paperwork and meetings.”

READ ALSO The advantages and pitfalls of buying property with an SCI

As for purchasing a home with a tontine clause in the deed (contrat de vente), if one partner dies then the surviving partner is considered to be the sole owner of the entire property.

The clause requires agreement of the two partners and must be added when purchasing the home. One primary downside is that the purchasers cannot take legal action later on to divide up the property later on should conflict arise – decisions, including whether to sell, must be made unanimously.

Many foreigners are also encouraged to open an Assurance Vie, which is a life insurance wrapper that holds investments, usually with a minimum deposit – but for Americans living in France an Assurance Vie can lead to lengthy and complicated dealings with the IRS.

READ MORE: ‘Death by a thousand cuts’: Assurance Vie tax warning for Americans in France

Keep in mind that these methods can have other legal and ramifications, as well as on the inheritance of any children or step-children down the line.

Before opting for these avenues, speak with both law and tax professionals in France to understand possible unintended consequences.

For instance, foreigners often equate French inheritance law and inheritance tax structures, but they are different – you may successfully avoid French forced heirship while still finding yourself still subject to wealth and inheritance taxes. 

Take the example of a couple who purchases a home with a tontine clause in the deed. If the couple is not married or in a civil partnership (PACS), then the tontine clause would allow one partner to inherit the entire property. However, they may still be subject to a high inheritance tax (up to 60 percent) as they are not considered to be a family member. 


It is not uncommon for people from the United States to have either set up a trust or to be a beneficiary of one.

However these can cause problems in France.

“Trusts have a negative reputation in France, and for a while the country did not know how to tax them”, Whitaker explained.

“10 years ago, France passed a law that cut through any legal concepts that Americans might have about trusts, which in effect makes it so that France views the beneficiary as owning the trust.”

Find the full detail on the situation for Americans with trusts HERE.

What to do to plan your estate effectively

As with most things, the key is forward planning. You want to ensure that you are not creating problems for your heirs after you die – and that is especially the case if your heirs don’t live in France, don’t speak French or don’t understand the French legal system. 

French estates are administered by notaires, and it would usually be the notaire that you work with who will deal with your estate after you die – if you’re leaving your estate to non-French speakers it is therefore a good idea to work with a bilingual notaire, who can explain everything to your heirs once it becomes time to administer the estate. 

Whitaker told The Local that it is crucial for foreigners in France to work with a multi-national team of both lawyers and accountants when estate planning – to ensure that there are no surprises for your heirs.

As mentioned above, it is possible to add a clause to your existing will requesting that your estate be handled by the laws of your country of nationality.

“In theory, one will can govern everything”, explained Whitaker.

“That being said, sometimes it is simpler when it comes to administration to have two wills.

“It’s easier to have a will that is done in French and by a French notaire. For Americans, if they only have one will from the United States, then it must be sent to probate in the US and translated before being applied in France.

“For people with real estate in France especially, we often recommend a separate French will for them,” the estate planning expert told The Local.

Once again, before you decide to do so, be sure to work with both tax and legal professionals in your home country and in France to ensure that the information in one Will is not in conflict with the other.

When working with your estate planning team, be sure that you are instructed on whether your country has a dual-taxation agreement with France, and if so, how it works.

This means that the estate planning for your English-speaking friend who has also retired to France, but from a different country, could look very different from your own. One key example is the way the US-France tax treaty approaches US-based pensions.

READ MORE: Reader question: How can I find English-speaking lawyers and accountants in France?

Think about whether it is advantageous to gift assets before death

The threshold for tax-free lifetime gifts in the United Kingdom and United States is different than in France. For Americans, the maximum amount one can give during their lifetime is $13 million in gifts before taxation applies. In the United Kingdom, inheritance tax is only applied to gifts if they are given in the last seven years of the person’s life.

But the French fiscal regime has specific maximums for different family members and non-family members. It is most generous for children, allowing parents to give up to €100,000 every 15 years per child before being subject to tax. 

As such, Whitaker often recommends that his American clients give away parts of their estate prior to becoming a resident of France.

Ultimately, this will depend on the tax regime of your home country, as well as any existing tax treaties between your home country and France. It is advised to work with professionals before deciding to gift your assets as you will want to ensure sufficient funds to sustain yourself while living in France. 

This article is intended as a general overview of French inheritance and tax laws, and is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. In all cases, it is best to obtain independent advice that’s appropriate to your personal situation, from a financial or legal expert.

Member comments

  1. The article above on inheritance tax made no mention of the IHT position for people that own second homes in France but are not resident in France.

    A simple sentence saying that for non residents with second homes French IHT does not apply, would have been helpful. However I am not sure if this is the case. If it is not the case then a few sentences summarising the position would have been helpful.

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What to expect for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in France

From international ceremonies to re-enactments and art exhibits plus parades, there are several things in store for the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France.

What to expect for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in France

There are several events planned to recognise the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, with the majority taking place at or near the historic sites in Normandy, northern France.

The D-Day landings, sometimes referred to as the Normandy landings, were a series of air and sea operations as part of the Allied invasion of France during World War II. In France they are referred to as Jour-J, le Débarquement or la Bataille de Normandie

The landings began on June 6th, 1944 under the codename ‘Operation Overlord’, among the largest seaborne invasions in history, and they helped to begin the liberation of France from occupation under Nazi Germany, eventually laying the foundations for Allied victory in Europe.

Thousands of Allied troops died, as well as between 4,000 to 9,000 German soldiers during the D-Day invasion alone and an estimated 20,000 French civilians were killed in the ensuing bombardments of villages and towns.

The ‘D-Day Festival Normandy’ will involve the bulk of the remembrance events, including the official ceremony, and it will take place from June 1st-16th. It will kick off on June 1st with a firework display. 

You can download the full itinerary HERE. English translations can be found under the original French. There is also more information available on the website, with an interactive map HERE.

Here are some of the main events planned;

The official international ceremony – June 6th

This will take place on the date of the anniversary at Omaha Beach and will involve various heads of state, veterans and other French officials. 

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to be present, and while it has not yet been confirmed, there are strong indications that US president Joe Biden and Britain’s King Charles will also be in attendance.

Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited, but Russia did receive an invitation to send another country representative.

It will likely resemble the previous large anniversary commemoration, which took place in 2014 and saw 17 heads of state in attendance for a ceremony at Sword beach.

Expect road closures in the area. Keep track of them using this map.

Air show

The Patrouille de France aerial display team will fly over Omaha Beach on June 6th – the day of the international ceremony.

Country-specific ceremonies

There are also going to be smaller individual ceremonies commemorating British soldiers at Gold Beach in Ver-sur-Mer, Americans at Colleville-sur-Mer, near the American cemetery and Omaha beach ,before the official ceremony on June 6th, and Canadians at Courseulles-sur-Mer, after the official International Ceremony.

These ceremonies may require advanced registration.

Museums, culture and art

Several museums, including the Utah Beach Museum, the Overlord Museum, and the Normandy Victory Museum will have special exhibits.

A few examples are the ‘Standing with Giants’ exhibit at the British Normandy Memorial, which features over 1,475 silhouettes, made from recycled materials, meant to represent the British soldiers who lost their lives.

There is also a photo exhibit on the role of Native Americans during WWII, which runs from May 8th to September 29th at Route de Grandcamp in Vierville-sur-Mer.


There will be several small-scale military vehicle parades, as well as some larger ones.

The ‘liberation of Sword beach’ parade will involve more than 100 military vehicles and people dressed in period attire. It will take place on the streets of Colleville-Montgomery and Ouistreham Riva-Bella, with live music from the ‘D-Day Ladies’. It will take place on June 8th.

There is also the Bayeux Liberty Parade (June 9th), which will involve more than 300 historic vehicles to recognise the first city to have been liberated in France. The event will open with a pipe band, and there may be an air show involved too (though this is subject to change).  

READ MORE: Oldest allies: The best and worst moments of the French-American relationship

Re-enactments and reconstructions of military camps

Camp US – An American re-enactment camp with around thirty vehicles and around forty participants in uniform. There will also be a free exhibit of old photos (June 2nd-4th), the screening of a WWII themed film on June 6th, food trucks and free parking nearby. Free to visit from June 1st-8th.

Camp Nan White – A Canadian re-enactment camp at Bernières-sur-Mer. You can discover Canadian military vehicles, radios, field kitchens and more. Plus, there will be a free concert. Free to visit from June 1st-9th.

Camp Geronimo – An American re-enactment camp at Sainte-Mère-Église. There will be several period vehicles, including tanks, as well as an exhibit on women in the US military, and a parade. Free to visit from June 1st-9th.

Parachute drops

Civilians, soldiers, veterans and re-enactment groups will take part in multiple commemorative parachute drops. There will be one on June 2nd at Carentan-les-Marais, another on June 5th at Azeville, and one at La Fière in Sainte-Mère-Église on June 9th.

Concerts and balls

Sword Beach Swing Festival – From June 7th-9th, music from the 20s to 40s, swing dancing, and more. Taking place at the Salle Trianon in Lion-sur-Mer from 7.30-8.00 pm on June 7 and 8, and from 2pm onward on June 9th. Free and open to all.

Somme Battlefield Pipe Band – Listen to traditional Scottish tunes, with some Irish, American, Canadian and Australian music mixed in. Located at Arromanches-les-Bains, starting at 5pm on June 6th.

Up the Johns Liberty Band – Enjoy an evening of fun with period costumes, live music, food and dancing, alongside members of the Canadian regiment that liberated the commune of Thue et Mue 80 years ago. Taking place at the Gymnase Victor Lorier at Rue de la Pérelle from 7.30pm onward on June 8th.

This is not an exhaustive list of all the D-Day commemorative events. You can find the full programme HERE.