Where there’s a will

Both of us have a Last Will and Testament on file back in the US where they were drawn up by an attorney familiar with those types of documents. They would be legal in France, although the practicality of executing them here might be challenging. For one thing, they are written in English and while we have copies with us that could be officially translated, they still might need authenticating back through the county clerk’s office where they are on file. To make things easier for one of us (or if we’re both gone, someone else entirely) in the future, we decided to visit a notaire and have him create a Testament for each of us. After all, we live in France and any assets that are left will be donated to a charity here in town so it just made sense, but where would we start?

Photo by Edgar Daniel H. Cervantes

As always, we began our search online, looking for trusted websites that we’d used before when searching for information about dealing with the government and what better place than the French Ministry of the Economy, link below. You’ll also find 2 other sources that confirmed what we had seen elsewhere: because we are married without children and would want the surviving spouse to inherit everything, we don’t actually need a will. French succession law would automatically grant that to the person remaining; however, to ensure that the animal shelter in Carcassonne (SCPA; photo across the top is from their website) will eventually benefit, we’ve written wills. Once we received an email confirmation from the SCPA that they were willing to be our legataire universel (universal/sole legatee) it was time to contact a notaire

When we bought our house 7 years ago our real estate agent arranged for a notaire to handle the closing and that’s who we went back to for this transaction. He typed out the words we needed to say and asked us to handwrite them on a single sheet of paper which he sealed in an envelope which would be registered with the national database of notaires. The entire process took 30 minutes and the cost was 100€ per person.

Photo by Pixabay

Our situation is a simple one: the only property we own is in France and all of that will transfer to the surviving spouse and then eventually to charity along with any funds left in the bank. Since we have no relatives in France, it will be up to the legataire universel to take on the duties of what an administrator might do in the US; that is, notify the authorities including pension income suppliers, utility companies, and the bank; arrange for the sale of the house and its contents, and ensure that the proceeds are correctly distributed. The notaire suggested leaving an envelope in the house marked “Open in case of death” that would show his name, our bank’s name, and any other contacts that we think would be useful to the legataire universel. The links below, plus the book Inheritance Law and Wills in France that we bought online through The Connexion France website contain details on more complicated scenarios. These provide the legal advice that we cannot give. 

Our local animal shelter belongs to La Confédération Nationale Défense de l’Animal and I’ve included a link below to a pdf of their brochure that explains the donation process.

Making a will from French Property: https://www.french-property.com/guides/france/finance-taxation/inheritance/wills

Planning wills from Expatica:


Testament from the Ministère de L’Economie: https://www.economie.gouv.fr/particuliers/testament#

Notaires of France. A portion of their site is in English. https://www.notaires.fr/fr

Pdf of SCPA donation brochure

17 thoughts on “Where there’s a will

      1. Hi Bob, did you end up becoming a French Citizen and if so, did you do it yourself or through a French Avocat? I am starting the extended Visa process for our move in August and looking further down the road…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Sean, I’m still waiting for my final interview to become a citizen. It depends upon where you live as far as how long it takes. In the Paris area that might be a bit over a year whereas in the rest of the country it could be three years or so depending upon how many employees the préfecture that you must use has. Had we thought about it in advance while we were still living in the US, there are a few documents with their attestations (please see our post entitled “Applying for Citizenship”) that we could have obtained a bit more easily. Be careful, though; even if you get your fingerprints made in advance on the request form for the FBI report, you must wait until you have moved to France before you request the report. For all of our dealings with the French government, including my citizenship request, we’ve simply followed the directions posted on the appropriate government website without needing an avocat. Thanks for your question!


  1. Great post. We currently have a U.S. revocable living trust, which is apparently a no-no in France, and we have adult children, so our situation is more complex. We’re in the process of getting estimates from a couple of lawyers in France to redo our wills in compliance with French law, and the first one (which included a notaire’s services) came in at about $12,000. #stickershock! Glad you were able to do it simply and economically.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And just a question which only now occurs to me. You say: “French succession law would automatically grant that to the person remaining” Did you happen to discover in your research if that includes if the marriage was from another jurisdiction and not France? Kind regards, Gary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gary, We got married in the US and the notaire confirmed that because we live here in France, French succession law would apply to our assets located in France. Our US marriage certificate has also been accepted each time we renewed our residence cards and when I applied for citizenship. All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We each have children and stepchildren are a minefield when it comes to inheritance law in France. The French rules were overridden by EU law for a time which meant that one could make a US or UK will, for example, which the French would have to take into account for French assets. Unfortunately, a new law was passed in November ‘21, effectively taking French inheritance law back to where it was, which means wills made elsewhere no longer apply to French assets, and children cannot be disinherited. While we love all our eight children equally, this poses a problem for the one of us who survives the other even where a simple bank account is concerned. It’s complicated.

    Glad you’ve worked your wills out and that the animals will benefit, but hope it’s a far-off day when that happens.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Katherine, for commenting often because you always seem to have the experience that will help others in more complicated situations than our own. And thank you too for the good long-life wishes that we fully intend to use!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We were working on this when we met you in Carcassonne and are still in the process. Since we don’t have children and want to leave everything to benefit animals, our situation is similar to yours but we have American property. We saw an avocat/notaire partnership in Paris that had a price tag similar to sandyshroyer’s experience. We thought it was necessary and agreed. Though we told them explicitly what we wanted, they returned with elaborate tax avoidance preparation. I refused to pay because it was not what we wanted. Now we have a French avocat who has done exactly what we asked him to do, and his fee is 800 euros. It will link to our American will that will be handled by a California fiduciary. He told us we can leave all to a charity that is on the French registration. If it is not on that registration, it will be taxed. We chose SPA. We have also found another French lawyer who will be our executor and handle the care of the animals we have at the time we can not care for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, what a difference in fees! We found out, much as you are doing with your animal shelter, that if you make arrangements in advance, our local SPA will take care of any pets left behind. What a comfort for all of us!


Comments are closed.