Case Study: International Probate and French Joint Bank Account
The following case study shows the difficulties encountered in French probate matters when the estate includes a French joint bank account.
Having bought a second home in Normandy 10 years ago, my husband and I had a joint bank account with a French bank. Sadly, my husband died six months ago and I began what I considered to be the simple process of transferring the account into my sole name.
The death certificate was obviously the first step. I was then asked by the bank for “La copie intregrale du livret de famille defunt”, which is an official document naming the spouse and children. As I explained, this does not exist in the UK. I then had to send my marriage certificate and our three children’s birth certificates. By May I was still without a cheque book and card so on my next visit paid a visit to the bank. Unable to see my advisor who had been extremely helpful at first, I was sent a message to say that a copy of the funeral bill, and proof that I had paid it, was now required. What on earth has that got to do with my French bank account? We are now into July and no further forward.
I am sorry to hear about the death of your late husband and the issues you are facing in putting your French bank account in order. When it comes to cross-border succession matters for international clients, the administration in France can be tricky and cumbersome when local bank branches, like it seems to be in your case, are not too experienced with cross-border succession matters. From experience, French banks have their own procedures in relation to succession matters. To request a copy of the funeral bill when the deceased was a non-resident is quite unusual.
The most likely documents for a British deceased who was a non-resident would be the following:
-an original or certified copy of the deceased’s death certificate accompanied with an official translation in French;
-a certified copy of the grant of probate (with the English Will) or grant of letters of administration if the deceased died without a Will accompanied with an official translation in French: if your late husband died domiciled in England, English law should apply to the inheritance of the French bank account. As it is a joint bank account, you should be able to continue using the bank account. However, if the bank account is in credit, half of its amount should belong to you and the other half will be part of your late husband’s estate. So, if you are the sole beneficiary of your late husband’s estate, the money held in the account should be passed to you. If there are other beneficiaries, their entitlement to the funds should be transferred to the executors or administrators of the estate with responsibility for them to distribute the funds to the beneficiaries.
-some banks may ask for a certificate stating whether or not French inheritance tax (IHT) is due: if your husband died domiciled in England & Wales, the French bank account will be subject to IHT in England & Wales and not in France based on the double taxation treaty signed between France and the UK.
-in some circumstances, the bank may require an affidavit of English law from a solicitor.
If you are an executor or an administrator of an estate which includes assets in France and you are having difficulties with the administration of the French estate, please do not hesitate to contact me for assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org
Loic Raboteau, French Legal Consultant and Director at Francophile Legal Consulting.
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal or tax advice.