If the deceased has not drawn up a will, it is the law that dictates the order of heirs, termed “legal devolution”.

 In the absence of a will or donation, the law designates the heirs. The assets of the deceased go to their family and their spouse. The law establishes an order of priority:

  1. descendants: children, grandchildren, etc. ;
  2. privileged ascendants (father and mother) and privileged collaterals (brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces);
  3. ordinary ascendants: grandparents, great-grandparents;
  4. ordinary collaterals: uncles, aunts and cousins.

Rights of the surviving spouse

The children are at the closest degree of kinship to the deceased. They therefore succeed to the estate to the exclusion of any other person except the surviving spouse.

  • In the presence of common children, the surviving spouse inherits a quarter in full ownership or the total in usufruct.
  • If, on the other hand, the children come from different relationships, the spouse will receive a quarter in full ownership (to avoid conflicts between step-parents and step-children).
  • In the absence of descendants, half of the deceased’s inheritance goes to the surviving spouse, a quarter of the remainder is allocated to the mother of the deceased and the other quarter to the father of the latter.

But it should be noted that civil partners and cohabitants are considered third parties. In the absence of a will or donation, they have no rights to the estate.

In the absence of a surviving spouse

The heirs qualify for the succession in the order mentioned above. If there are children, they inherit all of the estate. In the absence of descendants, the deceased’s assets will be assigned to the other members of their closest family, that is to say their ascendants or collaterals in order of “privilege”: firstly the father and the mother, the brothers and sisters and, in the absence of the latter, the estate will then go to the grandparents followed by cousins, etc.

Worth knowing:

The law reserves part of the estate to the rightful heirs (the children and/or the spouse). The rest may be freely distributed in a will to the person of their choice. Anyone can, during their lifetime, make advances on inheritance, through donations.


Reference text

Article 734 et seq. of the French Civil Code