7 practical information on international successions
An international succession does not necessarily follow the same rules as a “classic” succession. Learn more in 7 points!
What is an international succession?
Today, it is more and more frequent to have to settle successions involving people of several nationalities or assets spread over several states.
A succession is international when there is a foreign element.
There are 2 hypotheses in which international succession is involved:
when the heirs are foreign;
or when the inheritance goods are located abroad.
What is the law applicable to an international succession?
The law applicable to international succession determines who the heirs are and their respective rights.
As soon as the estate has a link with France (for example, the deceased had his last domicile there), a distinction must be made between
The law applicable to real estate (land and buildings): this law, applicable to real estate succession, is that of the place where the real estate is located.
The law applicable to movable property (furniture, bank accounts, motor vehicles, boats, shares, etc.): this law, applicable to the movable estate, is that of the deceased’s last domicile.
Good to know: when the foreign law applicable to an international succession does not contain any mechanism to guarantee the share of the inheritance that should go to the heirs with the right of retention, a compensatory levy is possible. It allows children disinherited by foreign law to recover the equivalent from the estate’s assets located in France, for example.
Will in an international succession
In principle, a will is valid if it complies with the law of the state where it was made.
For example, a joint will, i.e. a will made by two people who bequeath property to each other, is not valid in France.
However, in the case of international succession, this will can be applied as long as it was made in a country that allows this form of will.
Good to know: the 1961 Hague Convention adds other conditions for the validity of a will. Thus, a will is valid if it complies with the internal law of the nationality possessed by the testator either at the time of the will or at the time of his death.
The intervention of a French notary
First, there is no obligation to have a notary intervene when the deceased did not leave any real estate, had not made a will or a donation and was not subject to a marriage contract.
In other cases, the French notary in charge of the settlement of the estate of a foreign deceased will have to determine his last domicile.
The deceased’s last domicile is the one indicated on the death certificate.
When the deceased had his last domicile in France, the French notary must open a succession file in France and establish the same documents for succession without foreign elements.
When the deceased had his last domicile abroad, the French notary only intervenes if the estate includes one or more real estate assets in France.
The notary will draw up a deed of notoriety, and a real estate certificate and certified copies will be sent to the person in charge of the estate in the country of the deceased’s residence.
Determining the heirs when the deceased’s property is located abroad
French law, which determines the heirs, does not make a distinction according to status, i.e. all children, whether or not from the deceased’s marriage, come into the estate of the deceased.
When the deceased’s property is located abroad, it is the law of the property’s location that will determine the heirs and their respective rights.
Example: an Irishman living in France dies, leaving bank accounts in France and an apartment in Ireland. It is, therefore, Irish law that will determine the heirs and their shares in the apartment.
In some countries, only men inherit. For example, a building located in Zimbabwe will be shared only between the sons of the deceased.
Declaration of an international estate when the deceased or his heirs reside abroad
Whether the deceased resided abroad or in France, the assets to be declared in the estate declaration are all those that belonged to the deceased at the time of death, regardless of their location.
The heirs must file the declaration of inheritance of a person who died abroadThe heirs must file the declaration of inheritance of a person who died abroad within 12 months of the death at the Recette des non-résidentsnon-résidents.
The payment of inheritance tax accompanies this filing.
When the deceased or his heirs reside abroad, it is necessary to consider the existence or not of a bilateral international convention signed between France and the foreign country in question.
For estates opened on or after November 1, 2021, the law n° 2021-1109 of August 24, 2021, allows the heirs “injured” by the foreign legislation to deduct the equivalent of their reserve rights from the deceased’s property located in France.
Taxation of an international succession
International successions are very complex from a tax point of view since the law applicable in each state must be taken into account:
In principle, the state where the deceased was domiciled has the right to tax the assets present in the deceased’s estate on the day of death.
However, France retains the right to tax assets located on its territory or when the heirs are domiciled in France.
This can lead to situations where the deceased’s assets are taxed twice: in France and the country where the deceased resided.
To avoid this, France has provided for the possibility of deducting the tax paid abroad from the tax due in France.
In addition, there are conventions signed between France and other states that derogate from this principle of taxing the deceased’s assets in two countries.
These bilateral international conventions prevail over the signatory states’ national law and define the states’ rights as to the taxes they can collect.
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