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International probates and estates – aimed at British expats in France

This information has been prepared by Sykes Anderson Perry Limited as a general guide only and does not constitute advice on any specific matter. We strongly recommend that you seek professional advice before taking action. No liability can be accepted by us for any action taken or not taken as a result of any information or advice given or omitted.

In this season, here in the UK we see lots of adverts saying that no one should be alone at Christmas. Generally, aimed at taking care of the elderly, there is a similar problem we come across in our international probates and estates practice.

People who move abroad often do not have family nearby. We are approached when parents have moved abroad, one of whom has died, and then the survivor, still living in France, also dies. The children may have no idea how to handle their estate, what law may apply, what assets there are and what debts may be outstanding. Often, there are no children, and those dealing with the estate may be more distant relatives or friends. The procedures for dealing with estates in a foreign jurisdiction are often very different from those in England and Wales (or the other UK jurisdictions of Scotland and Northern Ireland). We are beginning to hear from families whose surviving parent has “helpfully” chosen English law to apply to their European estate under the EU Succession regulation. The local lawyers are now faced with trying to wind up the estate using the English procedures which are very different from those in France and other European countries. This is a new process which leaves the local lawyers and courts feeling their way – and needing the input of English solicitors, not all of whom are equipped to deal with the cross-border aspects.

At a difficult time, families and friends far away, have the daunting task of trying to deal with their loved one’s property and affairs, and navigate an alien legal system. The scope for things to go wrong is high, and the family are often left floundering in a foreign language and country. The children or other beneficiaries may not speak French, and often parents feel no need to share their personal arrangements with their children or their future beneficiaries.

It is therefore imperative to take some steps to enable your child(ren), other relatives or the friends you want to inherit, to manage your affairs.

  • What can you do to help your family or other beneficiaries when you die?
  • First accept that things can and do go wrong.
  • Speak to your family or chosen beneficiaries (and executors) in advance – just in case, anyone can get run over by the proverbial bus. Even if you intend to return to the UK one day, you may die whilst French resident.
  • Keep copies of key information in one central place and let the relevant people know where that is.
  • Make a will and appoint an executor (if a using English law). Take advice as to what law to apply to your estate now that the EU Succession Regulation is in force. An executor can be a family member – preferably one who speaks French, or it could be a trusted friend. It can also be a professional specialising in these matters. Make sure it is someone who will be notified if you die. Or tell your family so that they can ask the executor to swing into action.
  • Get expert advice from a firm specialising in cross-border law for individuals. Give copies of their advice and their contact details to your executor and to your family.

Planning for the worst can save your loved ones a lot of time and money, and is a good insurance plan for anyone. After all, as Benjamin Franklin said, the only thing certain in life is death and taxes. Until humans learn to be immortal, making sure that your family and loved ones can manage your affairs after your death is vital to not adding to their woes at a sad time.

November 2015

Nicole Gallop MildonNicole Gallop Mildon

Solicitor and diplômée notaire