FAQ for bequeathing

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The death certificate signed by a doctor must either be handed over to the town hall within 24 hours or transmitted by the hospital administration. The burial certificate is issued by the mayor of the city of the person’s death. Incidentally, you should also inform the social organizations and the different banks in which the deceased had accounts about the death.

All personal accounts are frozen until the bank receives instructions from the notary in charge of the estate and from all the heirs, as well as a document proving the quality of the latter. The joint accounts continue to operate under the sole signature of the survivor. In principle, half of the account balance at the time of death is supposed to belong to the deceased and is integrated into the estate.
If the deceased has no will in favour of a third party, and after a genealogist has checked that there are no living heirs to inherit of the estate, all of the assets go to the State.
Descendants are entitled to a minimum share called “rightful portion”. Therefore the spouse can only receive all of the assets by way of donation or will, if the deceased has no descendants. However, it is possible to give or bequeath to the surviving spouse the entire estate in usufruct (see below “To what share is the surviving spouse entitled?”)
In some cases, if the deceased’s children are common to both spouses, the matrimonial system of community with a full attribution clause in favour of the surviving spouse enables the deceased to transfer all of the estate to the survivor.
The estate is valued at net market value: the value of the assets is reduced by the amount of the deceased’s debts at the date of death.
No. A child is a rightful heir who must receive a minimum share of the deceased’s estate. However, it is possible to reduce this share by giving all or part of the freely disposable portion to this child’s own children, his/her brothers and sisters, his/her spouse or to third parties.
Yes: since January 2007, parents are no longer rightful heirs.
The risk of loss or destruction of wills is an important matter. It is safer to go to a notary, who will ensure the conservation, make sure of the legal validity in substance and in form, and will guarantee that your last wishes are carried out.
Notaries have created a central database where donations between spouses and wills deposited at their office are confidentially referenced. They consult this file when they are in charge of someone’s inheritance. This file is now common to France and Belgium and is supposed to be extended to Europe. This is the best way to ensure that the will will be executed.
In the absence of a “donation to the last surviving spouse” and in the absence of a will, the situation of the surviving spouse may be particularly vulnerable if there are children of a previous union involved and if the spouse forgets to claim the lifetime right to the family house recognized by the law.
In this case, the survivor will lose his/her lifetime right to the family house. His/her legal rights in the estate will be the full ownership of one quarter of the estate. Therefore, it is appropriate for spouses to follow through with the organisation of their own protection with the assistance of their notary.
Several solutions are possible, including the following ones:
• Each spouse can consent to the other a “donation to the last survivor “. When one of the spouses dies, the children collect their minimum shares, while the rest (the freely disposable portion between spouses) goes to the surviving spouse.
• It is possible to adjust the prenuptial agreement in order to transfer certain assets to the spouse (e.g. the family house and its furniture or financial assets…).
• It is also possible to adopt the joint estate system: all of the couple’s assets then belong to both spouses. When one dies, and if the prenuptial agreement provided a clause of full attribution of the community to the survivor, the latter, in principle, becomes sole owner of the whole and has no tax to pay.
Legally, the cohabitant is considered as a third party, as a stranger to the family. He has no right to inherit: the entire estate goes to the children (if any), or if none, to other relatives (parents, brothers and sisters, etc…).
Of course, you can always carry out a donation or bequeath a portion of your estate to your cohabitant, provided that you comply with the rightful heirs’ rights (descendants). But the fees are very important: 60% of the value of the assets transferred. The donation can reduce the rate depending on the donator’s age.
Other solutions also help reduce the amount of tax: life insurance, the tontine, payment of the donation fees by the donator. These solutions can be implemented with the help of notary.
This legal situation is special.
Civil law treats partners as cohabitants: they are strangers to the family who have no legal estate vocation. They will inherit only if a will was drawn up in his/her favour and if there is no contradiction with the rightful heirs’ shares (see above).
Since the law of the 21st of August 2007 (“TEPA Act”), tax law assimilates surviving partners to surviving spouses. In case of donation, they also benefit from a € 80,724 allowance before the rate between spouses applies. In case of inheritance, partners are completely exempted from taxes.
The attributes of ownership can be divided into two distinct rights:
• The right of usufruct which corresponds to the right to use the asset and to receive incomes related to the asset. This right can be either a temporary right or a life annuity right.
• Bare ownership leads to the full property when the usufruct ends.
There is no joint ownership between an usufructuary and a bare owner.

Funds invested in a life insurance contract are not treated as part of the assets of the inheritance. Therefore, one could be tempted to put all their money on a life insurance account in order to avoid the children’s rightful heirship. But, if the premiums are considered to be “manifestly excessive”, they will be reinstated in the deceased’s estate to serve the children’s reserved shares. The judge will compare the assets and the incomes of the insured party to the premiums paid.

1. For contracts subscribed before the 20th of November 1991: no matter the age of the insured party
– Inheritance tax exemption
– For premiums paid after the 13th of October 1998: application of a 152,500 euro allowance per beneficiary before application of a 20% levy on the capital paid and of 25 % for the part of the part capital exceeding € 902,838.
2. For contracts subscribed between the 20th of November 1991 and the 13th of October 1998:
– Concerning the premiums paid before the insured’s 70th birthday:
Inheritance tax exemption
Concerning the premiums paid after the 13th of October 1998: application of a 152,500 euro allowance per beneficiary before application of a 20% levy on the capital paid and of 25 % for the part of the part capital exceeding € 902,838.
– Concerning the premiums paid after the insured’s 70th birthday:
After a global allowance of € 30,500 for all beneficiaries allocated in proportion to their rights, the inheritance tax scale is applied.
3. Contract signed as of the 13th of October 1998:
– Concerning the premiums paid before the insured’s 70th birthday:
Inheritance tax exemption
Application of a 152,500 euro allowance per beneficiary before application of a 20% levy on the capital paid and of 25 % for the part of the part capital exceeding € 902,838.
– Concerning the premiums paid after the insured 70th birthday:
After a global allowance of € 30,500 for all beneficiaries allocated in proportion to their rights, the inheritance tax scale is applied.

Donations of money granted by people under 80 years of age for the benefit of their children or grandchildren over 18 or emancipated are exempted from tax up to € 31,865 every fifteen years. This limit applies to donations by the same person to the same beneficiary. Aunts and uncles with no descendants may also grant in their nieces and nephews in the same conditions. This allowance is applied in addition to other allowances.