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Charlotte Macdonald is an associate solicitor in Stone King’s international and cross border team. Over a series of articles Charlotte answers legal and practical questions that are being asked by her clients in relation to COIVID-19; buying or selling property in France, wills and estate administration/succession.

Is administering an estate in France different from in England?

Difficulties can arise when a person dies owning assets in both the UK and in France, regardless of where the person died and their family is based.

The practicalities following a death can often be stressful enough for a family, let alone in these unusual times when border closures, travel restrictions and suspension of services due to COVID-19 hamper normal planning.

The usual legal process

When a person passes away owning assets in England, their estate will need to be administered. The process to do this, very broadly speaking, is as follows –

  1. Review the will/s if there is one, or if there is not a will ascertain who has the right to deal with estate administration and to inherit.
  2. Ascertain what the deceased’s domicile was at the time of their death (this is important for succession and for inheritance taxation).
  3. Ascertain what the deceased’s assets and liabilities were at the date of their death.
  4. Complete a UK inheritance tax return and arrange to pay tax (if necessary).
  5. Apply to the probate registry for the grant of probate (or grant of letters of administration if there is no will).
  6. Distribute the deceased’s assets to their beneficiaries. Sometimes this is done by simply transferring the asset, sometimes it is more appropriate to sell the asset and split the sale proceeds between the beneficiaries.

Where a person also owns assets in France, their French estate will also need to be administered (known in France as the ‘succession’). A notaire will be instructed to carry out the succession. Like an English solicitor, the notaire will look at the will, domicile, and ascertain the deceased’s assets and liabilities. The notaire will calculate the French inheritance tax, arrange for it to be paid and will draft deeds for the beneficiaries to sign so that they can inherit.

Travel difficulties

Difficulties in the past could arise if a person wasn’t able to visit their solicitor or notaire. These days, given the ability to work remotely, many solicitors and notaires will not actually need to meet their client in person.

This means that if you are resident in France and you are not able to travel back to the UK, or if you are in the UK but your solicitor is not based near you, you can instruct your solicitor to work for you remotely.

Although there will be some paper work to sign, this can either be emailed and posted back to the UK (or in some situations scanned), or if more appropriate you can sign an English power of attorney authorising another person (such as your solicitor) to apply for probate on your behalf.

In France there will also be paperwork to sign. If you are not able to travel to France you can ask your notaire to prepare a power of attorney for you, authorising a person in France (often an employee of the notaire’s office) to sign on your behalf.

International issues

Issues can arise where your solicitor and your notaire do not communicate. It is preferable to use legal professionals who are familiar with working internationally for a number of reasons:

  • Both the solicitor and the notaire will be aware of the Anglo/French double taxation treaty. This means that the tax (if any) will be appropriately dealt with in each country.
  • All parties will be aware of the relevant succession law and how the assets will pass. This can be dependent on habitual residence, domicile and the EU succession regulation. In some circumstances, immovable assets (buildings and land) will pass under one set of rules, and movable assets will pass under another.
  • Both your solicitor and your notaire will be aware of what the other needs and can supply one another with relevant declarations of law if required.

An experienced international and cross border solicitor, like those at Stone King, can help to guide you through the legal process, to help make a difficult time a little easier.

For more information please contact Charlotte Macdonald, Dan Harris or Raquel Ugalde at Stone King LLP either by calling +44(0)1225 337599, or by emailing: [email protected]

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