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Legal Advice

Good professional advice is a pre-requisite for buyers and sellers at all points along the French property 'chain'. Even those just contemplating a purchase would do well to base their decisions and choices on correct information from someone familiar with the French legal system. Although the English channel is quite a small divide between Britain and France, the differences between the two legal systems are enormous. 

For existing owners of a French property:

If you own a property in France you will already be familiar with the purchase process, but how much do you know - and really understand - about French Inheritance law? For example, under current French and EU law, owners of French property will be subject to French inheritance law if they die, regardless of whether or not they are resident in France.

iStock 000018252726Small red apple with stethoscope on topThe effect of this can be dramatic. For French residents it means that their worldwide assets, other than any real estate located outside France, will be subject to French inheritance law and taxation. For non-residents, only the French property will fall under French inheritance law. 

Children, natural or adopted (but crucially French law excludes step-children from this category) are what is known as 'reserved heirs' and it is difficult - although not impossible - to disinherit them from your estate. This means that a portion of your estate will be passed to them automatically.  However, steps can be taken to protect the position of a surviving spouse or partner.  Such restrictions on who inherits what under French law means that it is not essential to make a French Will. However, the existence of a French Will means that the administration of an estate will generally be easier, faster and less costly for surviving relatives.

For those intending to buy a French property: 

The French conveyancing system is safe and well regulated. It is not quick, however! A purchase will generally take three months from start to finish and will involve a lot of documentation. And the documentation will all be in French (although some estate agents do produce dual language contracts to assist English-speaking buyers).  British buyers should treat a French property purchase just as they would a similar purchase in the UK: take independent legal advice, don’t sign anything you don’t understand, and don’t take any risks or shortcuts. 

For those thinking of selling their French property: 

Having already been through the purchase process you may feel that you understand the system well and that there aren't any pitfalls. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. When selling, it is just as important that you understand the documentation you will be required to sign. Sellers are required to make various declarations - in both the initial contract and the final sale deed - and it is essential that these declarations are correct and complete. There will also be capital gains tax to consider, unless the property is registered as your main residence.

The Gite Doctor's team will be happy to help with any queries you have. You can contact our legal expert here


From each page in this section you can contact the relevant consultant directly if you have a specific problem. Alternatively, you can contact our Practice Manager if you would like to ask a question or have a more general chat. 

With decades of experience between us we're here to help you identify your problem and prescribe the right cure.

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