How is a will drawn up and can I register it?

Last update: 10/5/2012

A person wanting to draw up a will must respect specific forms of will. French law recognises the following forms of wills:

  • wills executed before a notary or notarial wills, executed before *two notaries or by one notary in the presence of two witnesses;
  • olograph wills which must be entirely written by the testator with his/her own hand and signed by him/her;
  • sealed wills in a closed envelope presented to a notary in the presence of two witnesses;
  • an international will (in accordance with the Washington Convention of 28 October 1973).

In a cross-border situation, a will is in principle valid if it complies with the laws of the State where it was drawn up.

It is possible to register a will with the central Register of Testamentary Dispositions (FCDDV). On the other hand, wills executed before a notary are systematically registered with the FCDDV. This register is accessible to the public, on certain conditions, and can be consulted online.

Information about how to keep, to register and to search for a will are also available on the website of the European Network of Register of Wills Association (ENRWA) in the section “Information sheet”.

Detailed information

What are the conditions governing the validity of a will as regards its form and substance?

Substantive conditions
The testator must be of sound mind (article 901 of the Civil Code). The testator must also have legal capacity (article 902 of the Civil Code). A person under 16 cannot make out a will (article 903 of the Civil Code); this is also the case for protected persons of adult age. Minors aged over 16 can bequeath by will half of the assets which they could bequeath if they were an adult (article 904 of the Civil Code).

Formal requirements
In France, four types of wills are authorised: – A holographic will: it must be entirely handwritten, dated and signed by the testator (article 970 of the Civil Code). – A notarially recorded will: it must be executed before two notaries or one civil law notary and two witnesses (article 971 of the Civil Code). If the will is executed by two notaries, it will be dictated to them by the testator. This also applies if it is executed before one civil law notary. In both cases, the will must then be read to the testator (article 972 of the Civil Code). The will must be signed by the testator in the presence of the civil law notary and the two witnesses (article 973 of the Civil Code) and signed by the civil law notary and the witnesses (article 974 of the Civil Code). – A sealed will: it is typed or handwritten by the testator or another person, signed by the testator, then presented closed and sealed before a civil law notary in the presence of two witnesses (article 976 of the Civil Code). – An international will: it is presented by the testator to a civil law notary and two witnesses, it is signed by them and then attached to a certificate drawn up by the civil law notary who is entrusted with its safe-keeping (Washington Convention of 26 October 1973).

Revoking a will
A testator may revoke his/her will at any time (article 895 of the Civil Code).

What are the conditions governing the validity of a will drawn up in another State?
Article 1 of The Hague Convention on the Law Applicable to Successions of 1961 applies (Art 1 of The Hague Convention of 1961).

Are agreements relating to a future inheritance authorised? Who can conclude such an agreement? What form must be respected?
Agreements relating to a future inheritance have been authorised since January 2007.
These agreements authorise potential heirs (children) to renounce in advance all or part of their inheritance in favour of one or more persons who may or may not have the capacity of heir (brothers or sisters or his/her descendants).
To be valid, such a renunciation must be executed before two notaries. These agreements must also name the beneficiaries of the inheritance.

Are there other possibilities for settling a succession?

  • Joint wills

These are prohibited in France (article 968 of the Civil Code).

  • Donations inter vivos

The principle is as follows: via a gift, a person (donor) transmits during his/her life, irrevocably and without consideration, an asset which he/she owns, to another person (the donee), who accepts it (article 894 of the Civil Code, article 932 of the Civil Code).
The beneficiaries may be the donor’s children or grandchildren, spouse or any other person.
The gift is made before a notarycivil law notary (article 931 of the Civil Code).
The gift may be revoked at any time, due to a default on obligations (article 953 of the Civil Code), the birth of a child (article 960 of the Civil Code) or ingratitude.

  • The appointment of heirs

This is an arrangement whereby one party (the testator) disposes of all or part of the assets which will make up his/her estate or a given asset from his/her estate in favour of another party who accepts (the testamentary heir).
This is normally prohibited under French law (article 893 of the Civil Code).
But it is authorised by the Civil Code and is known as the “donation of future property”, in certain cases: – the appointment of heirs in a prenuptial settlement (article 1082 of the Civil Code). It is irrevocable (article 1083 of the Civil Code).

How and where can I register a will? What is the effect of registration?

All wills, in particular holographic wills, can be registered.
Wills are registered with the Central Register of Testamentary Dispositions. They are registered by the notarycivil law notary.
Only notaries may consult this central register. They will do so at the request of anyone who can prove his/her capacity as heir or legatee. The register may only be consulted on presentation of the death certificate of the person whose will is to be consulted.