The death of a relative or friend can be a traumatic experience and it is important to understand the procedure in France.
Death at home. The first thing to do is contact the local doctor who will certify the death and issue a medical certificate (certificat medical), to say that a death has occurred. The family or doctor will contact a funeral home who will collect the deceased and take them to either the nearest hospital mortuary (chambre funéraire) or the funeral home’s own mortuary. Alternatively, in France, it is legal for the deceased to lay at rest in their own home prior to the cremation or burial.
Death in a hospital or national institution. The doctor who treated that person prior to their death will sign the medical certificate. The deceased person will be taken to lay to rest in the hospital mortuary.
If the death occurred under suspicious or violent (such as a road accident) circumstances it should be reported to the police as soon as possible. An inquiry is held when the death occurs in a public place or when foul play is suspected. In such cases, the body will be taken to a special mortuary for post-mortem. The responsibility for issuing the death certificate and burial permit lies with the public prosecutor (Procureur de la République) at the local high court (Tribunal de Grande Instance).
Registering the death
Within 24 hours an official declaration of death (déclaration de décès) will need to be made at the local mairie. This is usually done by a relative or formally appointed representative. To register the death you will need: Proof of identity of the person registering the death, the medical certificate of death and proof of the deceased’s identity, such as birth or marriage certificate, passport, or identity card.
The death certificate (acte de décès) provides information on where and when death took place but does not indicate the cause of death.
No fee is charged for the medical certificate issued by the doctor or for registering the death.
Although not obligatory, it is possible to register the death of a British national who has died in France at the British Consulate-General in Paris. Find out more.
You will need to contact the insurance company of the deceased. If they were not insured, the family will need to meet the funeral and repatriation costs.
You may need to contact a notaire to start the inheritance proceedings.
There are many organisations that have to be notified, including the deceased’s bank and place of work for example.
Repatriation of a foreigner
If the body needs to be repatriated from France to the UK, you’ll need to contact the local British consulate
for guidance on procedures. A Consular Official will assist with the process.
A relative or formally appointed representative must instruct a funeral director in France or the UK to make the necessary arrangements.
The time taken for repatriation depends on whether the deceased died from natural causes or if the death was suspicious and is being investigated.
In France the family of the deceased person are legally obliged to follow their wishes. A funeral ceremony in France can be secular and conducted by a funeral director, or religious and take place at a place of worship. After a death, the family have up to six working days (not including weekends or public holidays) to decide whether the deceased should have a cremation or burial.
If the body is to be cremated, authorisation will need to be sought from the local mairie. It will usually take place at the local crematorium. Following the cremation, the urn is given to the family if requested, or the ashes can be scattered in the garden of remembrance (jardin de souvenirs). In France, it is legal to spread ashes on your own land, at sea or in a country environment such as woodlands or mountains, but it is not permitted to scatter ashes in a public places including rivers and paths. Cremations can still be a personal ceremony with speeches, music etc.
A burial can be organised by a funeral parlour or the immediate family of the deceased. A request for burial should be made as soon as possible following the death certificate. Once the death is registered, the mairie will issue a burial permit (permis d’inhumer) indicating the time and date of death. Burial may not take place in the 24 hours following the death. The mairie authorises burial in the local cemetery. Alternatively, the deceased can be buried on their own land providing that certain criteria are met.
•With thanks to Angela Clohessy Dip FD MBIFD
Angela Clohessy is an English qualified funeral director.