In the absence of a will, who inherits and how much?

Last update: 10/5/2012

Where there is no will, the following principles apply to the various scenarios:

  • If the deceased was unmarried and without children, the deceased’s parents, together with his/her brothers and sisters, if there are any on the day of the deceased’s death, participate in the succession.
  • If the deceased is unmarried and leaves children: children inherit equal portions.
  • If the deceased leaves a spouse: The surviving spouse receives all the estate where the deceased has collateral relatives. Where there are parents, half of the estate devolves to the spouse and the other half to the parents.
  • The deceased leaves a spouse and children: Where there are children of the same parents, the surviving spouse receives, at his/her choice, either the usufruct of the deceased’s assets or the ownership of a quarter of the assets. Where there are children but not of the same parents, the spouse receives the ownership of a quarter of the assets.

Do partners of a registered or unregistered partnership inherit?

The surviving partner of a non-registered partnership, as well as the surviving partner of a registered partnership, do not have a legal title to inheritance. On the other hand they can benefit from a legacy or devise.

Detailed information

Under French law, before the succession is settled strictly speaking, the matrimonial property regime between spouses must be settled first.

Then, after settlement of the matrimonial property regime, and if there is no will, the following principles apply:

  • If the deceased was unmarried and without children, the estate devolves upon the deceased’s parents, brothers and sisters and descendants of the latter (article 734 of the Civil Code).

If the deceased does not leave any brothers or sisters or descendants of the latter, his/her estate is divided equally between his/her mother and father (article 736 of the Civil Code).
If the mother and father die before the deceased, the brothers and sisters of the deceased or their descendants succeed them, to the exclusion of other relatives, ascendants or collateral relatives (article 737 of the Civil Code).

  • If the deceased leaves a spouse and ascendants, half of the estate devolves upon the spouse, while the mother and father each receive a quarter. If one of the ascendants is already deceased, the quarter reverts to the spouse (article 757-1 of the Civil Code).
If there are neither ascendants nor descendants, the whole estate devolves upon the surviving spouse (article 757-2 of the Civil Code). Notwithstanding article 757-2 of the Civil Code, if there are no ascendants, the deceased’s brothers and sister or their descendants receive half of the assets included in the succession which were received by the deceased from his/her ascendants by way of a succession or a gift. This is the right of reversion (article 757-3 of the civil code). All the other assets devolve upon the surviving spouse.
  • If the deceased leaves a spouse and children, the spouse has a right of option. He/she may choose between the usufruct of all the existing assets or the ownership of a quarter of the assets when all the children are born to the same parents and the ownership of a quarter of the assets in the case of one or more children who are not born to the same parents (article 757 of the Civil Code).

What are the inheritance rights of partners in a registered or unregistered partnership?

A registered partner is not considered as an heir of the deceased, he/she has only a right of undisturbed possession over the family home after the death of his/her partner, pursuant to article 763 of the Civil Code. He/she therefore inherits only if he/she is named as a beneficiary in the deceased’s will.
Where there are children, whether or not they are born to the couple, it is only possible to bequeath the available portion of the estate to the surviving partner. The available portion varies according to the number of children: a third of the estate where there are two children and a quarter where there are three or more children.
If there are no children, it is possible to bequeath the whole of the estate to the surviving partner or to a third party because there are no forced heirs. However, if the deceased’s parents are still alive, they may submit a claim to a property that they gave to their deceased child up to the limit of a quarter of the estate for each parent still alive.

Non-registered partners (cohabitees) are not considered as heirs. They inherit therefore only if they are named as beneficiaries in the deceased’s will.