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Ex­pert ad­vice on suc­ces­sion tax, plan­ning per­mis­sion and deal­ing with noisy neigh­bours

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QMy hus­band and I are cur­rently draft­ing our will and want our French prop­erty to go to a sib­ling (we do not have any chil­dren). The ben­e­fi­ciary would ul­ti­mately sell the prop­erty and he is wor­ried that he would have to pay French suc­ces­sion taxes in ad­vance of in­her­it­ing the prop­erty, leav­ing him out of pocket un­til the house can be sold. Can you tell me if this is the case? Could he sell the house first and then pay any taxes due? Joanne Rus­sell

APre­sum­ably you will have de­cided whether to in­clude your French prop­erty within your English wills, or whether you should have separate French wills to deal with the French es­tate (the choice de­pends on your cir­cum­stances, and should ben­e­fit from ad­vice in ad­vance from spe­cial­ist solic­i­tors). Ei­ther way, it is prob­a­bly the case that on the death of the first of you, the sur­vivor would in­herit all of the prop­erty, with the even­tual ben­e­fi­ciary in­her­it­ing at the time of the sec­ond death.

It will then be for the ben­e­fi­ciary to de­cide whether to keep the French prop­erty or sell it. If the ben­e­fi­ciary chooses to keep it, he will have to com­plete the suc­ces­sion process with a no­taire, and pay any in­her­i­tance tax due in France at that point. The amount of tax payable would de­pend on which of you dies first: rates would be lower if it is the ben­e­fi­ciary’s blood rel­a­tive who is the sur­vivor of you two.

If he chooses to sell, he can put the prop­erty on the mar­ket, and can sign the ini­tial con­tract (nor­mally called the promesse de vente or com­pro­mis de vente), with­out hav­ing to com­plete the suc­ces­sion process. The suc­ces­sion process is then fi­nalised just be­fore the fi­nal deed of trans­fer (the acte de vente) is signed. The ben­e­fit of this is that any tax can be paid di­rectly out of the pro­ceeds of sale.

There are, how­ever, time lim­its by which the tax should be paid; if the house is not sold by such a point, the tax of­fice may wish to im­pose a late pay­ment penalty and in­ter­est. The tax of­fice will oc­ca­sion­ally be pre­pared to ne­go­ti­ate on the penal­ties and in­ter­est, although there is no guar­an­tee of this. The time lim­its de­pend on whether the de­ceased died in France or else­where: if in France, the suc­ces­sion should be wrapped up within six months, if else­where, then that pe­riod is one year. MATTHEW CAMERON

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