Charlotte Macdonald is an associate solicitor in Stone King’s international and cross border team.
Over a new 12-part series of articles Charlotte answers legal and practical questions that are often asked by her clients in relation to France; whether that be buying or selling property in France, inheritance law, or how inheritance and capital gains tax are treated between the UK and France.
Do I Have to Travel Back to the UK to Make My Will or Can I Make One Online?
Following the implementation of the EU succession regulation 650/2012 in 2015, many Britons, either those living in France, or those who own property in France, are now choosing to elect the law of their nationality in their wills.
It is common for Britons living in France to ask whether they have to return to the UK to make a will in which they elect for ‘UK law’ to apply, or whether they can simply make one online.
Why Choose the Law of Your Nationality in Your Will?
Many people choose the law of their nationality in their Will to get around the forced heirship rules in France. These French inheritance laws mean that you are not always free to leave your assets as you wish on your death. For example, under French law, if you have children, you cannot leave all your assets to your spouse when you die. A proportion must go to your children.
In contrast, the laws of England and Wales, broadly speaking, allow a person to leave their assets to whomever they wish on their death.
So by electing the laws of their nationality, a British person can maximise the flexibility of their Will.
Do I Need to See an English Solicitor in England?
Confusingly there is no such thing as ‘British inheritance law’. The laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland are different to those in England and Wales.
If you are English or Welsh you should speak to an English or Welsh solicitor about your Wills – as it will likely be these inheritance laws that are applied to your French assets when you make a nationality election in your French Will.
If you are choosing English and Welsh law to apply, you should ideally speak to a solicitor who is an expert in inheritance law and who has extensive experience of dealing with Anglo/French succession matters.
Although it is very helpful to meet your solicitor where possible, from a practical point of view getting back to England for this may by difficult and expensive. You may therefore be able to deal with your solicitor remotely, over the telephone and online.
What to Look out for When Choosing a Solicitor You Can’t Meet in Person?
- You should check that the solicitor is regulated. You can do this by carrying out a simple search on the Law Society website. Many online will writing companies are not regulated or insured in any way – check that the person behind the website is a solicitor.
- You should check that the solicitor you are dealing with is experienced in Anglo/French matters.
- If possible, have an initial conversation with the solicitor over the telephone.
- Check that the solicitor will do the following:
- Have a telephone/skype/facetime meeting with you. This helps to ensure that the solicitor fully understands what you want to do.
- Can draft wills for use in the UK or France or both (as necessary). Will check any existing wills so they can advise you if they need to be changed.
- Update you either by telephone or by email.
- Provide you with comprehensive advice on inheritance, including inheritance tax advice.
- Send you draft copies of your wills – either by email or through the post.
- Send the final copies of your wills to sign with comprehensive signing instructions. The solicitor should be happy to talk you through the signing of the wills over the phone if necessary and should offer to check your wills once you have signed them.
Stone King works on a daily basis with clients based all over the world, many of them living in France. Although we enjoy meeting our clients face to face we understand that it is not always possible for our clients to travel back to meet with us in the UK. We are therefore experienced in working remotely for our clients which helps us to ensure that our clients are given appropriate advice and Wills tailored for their personal circumstances.