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T Perrin C
T Perrin C, Consultant: information en droit du travail
Category: French Law
Satisfied Customers: 1412
Experience:  8 years as a Senior judge at Paris Conseil de Prud'hommes (Paris Industrial Tribunal)
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My wife and I are both US Citizens, in the process of purchasing

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My wife and I are both US Citizens, in the process of purchasing a house in France. We have been married since 1985, this is our first marriage, and we do not have any children together or from another relationship. We both have brothers/sisters in America, and at least one living parent. Do we need to have a clause "en tontine" added to our Compromis de Vente to protect the surviving spouse in the event that one of us dies? Or is there another way to ensure the surviving spouse inherits the property?
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

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Under French law the surviving spouse will automatically have the option to keep a full usufruct (lifelong right to use as he/she wishes including right to let the property) on the deceased spouse's share of the house. If he/she decides to sell the proceeds on that half would be shared between him/her and the deceased spouse's heirs (%ages depending on ususfructor's age).
Simpler than a tontine, both could write French wills designating the other spouse as the heir of their French assets. No inheritance tax would be due by the surviving spouse.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

So if I understand correctly, since we do not have any children, the surviving spouse automatically inherits the property. If they decide to sell the house, none of our brothers or sisters has any claim to the property or the money from the sale?

He/she automatically inherits the lifelong right to live and use the property as she wishes - this is called usufruct. If he/she sells the house, a share of the proceeds will go to the heirs of the deceased spouse, if any. This share (of the half of the house which was owned by his/her deceased spouse) depends on the age of the surviving spouse at the time he/she sells the property .
To avoid this each of you just need to have a French will designating the other one as his/her heir. This only needs to be a few handwritten lines, sealed in envelopes which you can have a notaire enter in the national registry of last wishes. It costs less than 75 € per will. This will ensure that the other spouse will automatically inherit the other's estate (dealt under French law) with no inheritance tax to pay.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for the information. I do have one remaining question: when would one need a clause "en tontine"? Under what conditions would this clause apply? A few years ago we were looking into buying a French house and the notaire recommended a clause tontine. Now they tell us it is not necessary. Was there a recent change to the law?

French law was amended several times in the past ten years, reinforcing the rights of surviving spouses in inheritance proceedings. This makes tontine, which is a rather complicated mechanism often challenged by tax authorities a much less attractive option.
T Perrin C, Consultant: information en droit du travail
Category: French Law
Satisfied Customers: 1412
Experience: 8 years as a Senior judge at Paris Conseil de Prud'hommes (Paris Industrial Tribunal)
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