On the death of their spouse, the surviving spouse benefits from a number of rights in the succession of the deceased.

Rights to the accommodation

The surviving spouse may have free access to the accommodation for one year.

If the couple were tenants, the rent may also be covered by the estate. The survivor can then continue the lease or give it up.

If the couple were owners of the property, the surviving spouse can benefit from a right of occupancy and use, in other words, they can live in the house until the end of their life. In this case, the value of this life entitlement decreases their share of inheritance, but if it exceeds the latter, the spouse does not have to compensate the other heirs.

Rights to inheritance

The rights of the surviving spouse will depend on the matrimonial regime to which the couple are subject, the other heirs, and on the existence of particular provisions taken by the spouses or by one of them (donation, will, etc.).

In their absence, the law distinguishes several hypotheses, the most common of which are the following.

– The couple had children together: the survivor receives the entire usufruct of the assets (the right to use them but not to assign them) or a quarter of the assets of the estate in full ownership;

– The deceased has children from other relationships: the survivor receives one-quarter of the property of the estate in full ownership;

– The deceased has no children, the surviving spouse is assigned all the inheritance.

The heirs also inherit the debts of the estate in proportion to the share they receive.

The surviving spouse is exempt from inheritance tax.

Arranging the rights of the surviving spouse

To provide the surviving spouse with additional protection, it is possible to make a donation between spouses or to draw up a will in their favour.

Donation to a “last survivor”

This leaves the surviving spouse the choice between three options regarding the estate: all in usufruct, one-fourth in full ownership and three-quarters in usufruct, or the available portion (1/2 of the estate with one child, 1/3 with two children, 1/4 with three or more children).

Worth knowing

In the absence of a child, if the deceased is survived by siblings, the latter can claim the return of half of the family assets of the deceased (1/4 for each of the parents). This concerns the assets received by the spouse from their parents, during the marriage: paintings, real estate, etc.


Reference text

Article 756 et seq. of the French Civil Code.