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Inheritance Planning and French Residency

By Occitanie - Topics: France, Inheritance Tax, Succession Planning
This article is published on: 18th May 2021

Welcome to the latest edition of our newsletter ‘Spectrum in Occitanie, Finance in Focus’, brought to you by your Occitanie team of advisers Sue Regan, Philip Oxley, Derek Winsland, together with Rob Hesketh now consulting from the UK.

As a very important part of any financial planning review, we thought we would re-visit the subject of inheritance planning in this newsletter for the benefit of newcomers and as a reminder for those of you who are already settled in this fabulously diverse and beautiful region of France.

Despite the importance of making sure one’s affairs are in order for the inevitability of one’s demise, very few actively seek advice in this area and, as a result, are unaware of the potential difficulties ahead for their families and heirs, not to mention potential tax bills which can be quite substantial for certain classes of beneficiary.

The basic rule is, if you are resident in France, you are considered also to be domiciled in France for inheritance purposes and your worldwide estate becomes taxable in France, where the tax rates depend upon the relationship to your beneficiaries.

Fortunately, there is no inheritance tax between spouses, PACSed or civil partners, and the allowance between a parent and a child is reasonably generous, currently €100,000 per child, per parent. For anything left to other beneficiaries, the allowances are considerably less. In particular, for stepchildren and non-related beneficiaries, the allowance is a measly €1,594 and the tax rate on anything above that is an eye-watering 60%!

There are strict rules on succession and children are considered to be ‘protected heirs’ and, as such, are entitled to inherit a proportion of each of their parents’ estates. For example, if you have one child, the proportion is half; two children, one-third each; and if you have three or more children, then three-quarters of your estate must be divided equally between them.

You are free to pass on the rest of your estate (the disposable part) to whoever you wish through a French will and, in the absence of making a will, if you have a surviving spouse he/she would be entitled to 25% of your estate.

You may also be considered domiciled in your ‘home’ country and if so, this could cause some confusion, since your home country may also have the right to charge succession taxes on your death. However, France has a number of Double Taxation Treaties (DTT) with other countries covering inheritance. In such a case, the DTT will set out the rules that apply (basically, which country has the right to tax what assets).

For example, the 1963 DTT between France and the UK specifies that the deceased’s total estate will be devolved and taxed in accordance with the person’s place of residence at the time of death, with the exception of any property assets that are sited in the other country. By the way, the UK–France Treaty is not affected by Brexit.

Therefore, for a UK national who is resident in France, who has retained a property in the UK (and does not own any other property outside of France), the situation would be that:

  • any French property, plus his/her total financial assets, would be taxed in accordance with French law; and
  • the UK property would be taxed in accordance with UK law, although in theory, the French notaire can take this asset into account when considering the fair distribution of all other assets to any protected heirs (i.e. children).

If a DTT covering inheritance does not exist between France and the other country with which the French resident person has an interest, this could result in double taxation if the ‘home’ country also has the right to tax the person’s estate.

Hence, when people become French resident, there are usually two issues:

  • how to protect the survivor; and
  • how to mitigate the potential French inheritance taxes for other beneficiaries
Succession tax in Spain

European Succession Regulation No. 650/2012
Many of you will no doubt have heard about the EU Succession Regulations that came into effect in 2015 whereby the default situation is that it is the law of your place of habitual residence that applies to your estates. However, you can elect for the inheritance law of your country of nationality to apply to your estate by specifying this in a French will. This is effectively one way of getting around the issue of protected heirs for some expats living in France.

There are a number of other ways in which you can arrange your affairs to protect the survivor, depending on your individual circumstances, such as a change to your marriage regime (yes, France matrimonial law provides for couples to select a particular type of contract under which their assets will be devolved on divorce or death) and we would always recommend that you discuss succession planning in detail with a notaire experienced in these matters.

Mitigation of Inheritance Tax
On whichever planning you decide, it is important to remember that the French inheritance tax rules will still apply. So, even though you have the freedom to decide who inherits your estate, this will not reduce the potential inheritance tax liability on your beneficiaries, which, as mentioned above, could potentially be very high for a stepchild. Hence, there may still be a need to shelter financial assets from French inheritance taxes.

By far and away the most popular vehicle in France for sheltering your hard-earned savings from inheritance tax is the assurance vie. The assurance vie is considered to be outside of your estate for tax purposes and comes with its own inheritance allowances, in addition to the standard aIllowance for other assets. If you invest in an assurance vie before the age of 70 you can name as many beneficiaires as you like, regardless of whether they are family or not, and each beneficiary can inherit up to €152,500, tax-free. The rate of tax on the next €700,000 is limited to 20% – potentially making a huge saving for distant relatives or stepchildren.

The more beneficiaries nominated (e.g. grandchildren, siblings, etc) the greater the potential inheritance tax saving, depending on the value of the policy at the time of death. Beneficiaries can be changed or added at any time during the life of the assurance vie. Remember also, that beneficiary nominations are not restricted to family members, so, whoever you nominate gets the same allowance.

The inheritance allowance on premiums paid to assurance vie after age 70 are less attractive, at €30,500 of the premium (capital investment) paid plus the growth on the capital shared between all named beneficiaries, and the remaining capital invested is taxed in accordance with the standard inheritance tax bands. Nevertheless, an assurance vie is still a worthwhile investment after the age of 70 as, in addition to the inheritance tax benefits, assurance vie offers personal tax efficiencies to the investor such as gross roll-up of income and gains whilst funds remain in the policy and an annual income tax allowance of €4,600 for an individual, or €9,200 for a couple, after 8 years.

So, in order to ensure that your inheritance wishes are carried out some planning may be required and there are investment opportunities to mitigate the inheritance tax for your chosen beneficiaries. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your particular circumstances.

Spanish Inheritance Tax

Inheriting From a Non-French Resident
The tax position of a French resident beneficiary inheriting from the estate of a non-French resident is worthy of a more detailed explanation.

The good news for UK nationals is that, due to the aforementioned DTT on inheritance between France and the UK and providing the deceased did not have any assets situated in France at the time of death, then there is no French inheritance tax payable if you are resident in France.

Where there is no specific tax treaty on inheritance in place between France and the country of residence of the deceased, then the obligation to pay French inheritance tax is determined by how long you have been fiscally domiciled in France at the time of death. You are considered domiciled fiscally in France if you are resident in France and have been for at least six years out of the last ten years preceding the death. If you fall within scope for inheritance tax then the allowance and tax rate will be in accordance with your relationship to the deceased.

If you have received an inheritance, then you may well need some advice on what to do with it and how best to shelter it from both personal taxes for you and inheritance taxes for your beneficiaries. We can help you with that.

Pension Funds and Inheritance Tax
Death benefits from bona fide pension schemes are excluded from your estate for inheritance purposes and are therefore not subject to French inheritance tax. Generally speaking, it is possible to leave your pension fund to the beneficiary of your choice, although some defined benefit (final salary) schemes will only pay death benefits to certain beneficiaries.

It is important to bear in mind that if you are considering encashing your whole pension pot under ‘Pensions Freedom’, once the funds are removed from the pension wrapper, they will be included in your estate for inheritance purposes. You could subsequently shelter these funds in an assurance vie but we strongly recommend you seek our advice before fully cashing in your pension funds as there may be any number of reasons why this would not be in your best interests.

Article by Occitanie

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