If you’re considering a South of France property purchase, you’ll understandably want to know if you can retain complete control of your investment over the coming decades and after your death.


In the UK, this assurance is readily provided. It’s generally accepted that, with the exception of particularly unusual circumstances, your estate will be split up in accordance with your will. Despite the occasional high-profile dispute, your wishes are rarely ignored. An executor does have the power to make judgement calls when an instruction is deemed unclear and there are a few other occasions where changes must be made, but these are a rarity.


In France, it’s not quite that simple. Your children are protected heirs and as such, will always be entitled to a share of your South of France property upon your death. You cannot legally disinherit your child in France. Curiously, a surviving spouse is not offered the same protection, though unless you explicitly state that you do not wish them to inherit any of your estate, they are automatically granted 25%.


In the UK, where remarriage and blended families are common, this can become a serious issue of contention.


When do South of France Property Inheritance Laws Affect Me?


In 2015, a change was made to the law which means that, with certain caveats, you can essentially “choose” whether you would like your estate divided according to the laws of your country of nationality or the country where your immovable assets are. Immovable assets almost always refer to property, be that commercial or residential.


In order to apply the laws of your country of nationality, you must explicitly state your decision in your will or a similar legal document. Your family cannot make the decision for you after your passing.


If this is not carried out, your French property will automatically be divided according to French law. Be aware that choosing UK law will not protect you from French succession tax, which is 35%-45% for sibling inheritors, or 60% for those considered “non-relatives” such as your stepchildren. There is also the possibility of UK inheritance tax applying as well, which may undo all of your careful planning.


When buying a South of France property, you can choose to include a ‘tontine’ clause in the contract which ensures that the property will pass to the surviving tontine holder. This works in largely the same was as a UK joint tenancy, but French succession tax is still applicable.


Who Gets What?


Your estate will automatically be divided into that which is reserved for your children (and spouse, assuming that you have not chosen to disinherit them) and that which is “freely disposable” meaning that you can bequeath it to whomever you wish.

Inheritor(s) Reserved

Freely Disposable

Spouse 1/4 of estate

3/4 of estate

One Child 1/2 of estate

1/2 of estate

Two Children 2/3 of estate

2/3 of estate

Three Children 3/4 of estate

1/4 of estate


For example, if you leave one surviving spouse and two biological or legally adopted children, each child would automatically receive a third of your estate and your spouse would receive one quarter. This would leave 1/12th freely disposable.


A Final Word


It is important to note that the information provided in this article is to be used as a guideline only and is subject to change. French law is complex, and there are many factors which can affect the bequeathing of your estate. You should always seek professional legal advice before purchasing property or preparing a document such as a will.


South of France property expert and chartered surveyor Charles Mackintosh would be happy to talk you through some of the considerations you must make before committing to a purchase and can put you in touch with the relevant legal experts. Get in touch today.