Being the mother of two small children and the aunty of several more, like many parents, the issue arose quite early of what would happen to my children if something were to happen to my husband and I and what would happen to my sisters’ children should something happen to them. Whilst I don’t need to make a will from an inheritance tax point of view, because I have two children with the same father (my husband) and French law states that my half of our assets would go to my children as bare owners (nu propriétaire) and my husband as beneficiary (usufruitier), I do need to make a will regarding my wishes for my children’s guardian.
The first question is a personal one. Who, in your family or friends, would be best placed to be able to raise your children, in the country you want them to be raised in, in their language, in the way you want them to be raised? Do(es) this person(s) have children of their own? There are a range of different questions that are all particular to your situation. If you intend to appoint someone to be a guardian, then you should talk to them about it and maybe, if possible, talk to your children about it.
The second issue is the legal aspect. There are two ways to appoint a guardian in France. Firstly, you can appoint them in your will, or you could appoint them using a special declaration. Either way a notary needs to be involved. If no guardian is appointed by the parents, under aged children will be put under the protection of the court. A “Family council” will be appointed by the Guardianship Court (Juge des tutelles). This Family Council, made up of a minimum of 4 people, will have the responsibility of appointing a guardian (if one hasn’t already been appointed) who can be a member of the family or someone outside the family. Even if a guardian has been appointed but this person is unable to either adequately care for the child or properly manage the child’s assets, the matter can be referred to the court and another family member can chose another guardian.
If a child loses one parent then it is the other parent who will have parental responsibility. This parent can either care for the child themselves or appoint a guardian, who can be a member of the family or a close friend. If the parent is unable or incapable of looking after the child, then another guardian can be appointed by the court.
The third aspect is the financial aspect. If something were to happen, would the guardian have the financial means to look after the child(ren)? One thing you can do is make sure you have life insurance (called death insurance in France) which will pay out a lump sum and/or an annuity to the children for the rest of their childhood. Often when you purchase a house there is loan insurance that will cover some or part of the value of the house upon death of one or both parents. However, it may not be convenient or possible for the child to be raised in the family home and property as an asset is difficult to manage. Other liquid assets can be kept in bank accounts like Livret As or LLDs, but large lump sums (like the proceeds of a house or the lump sum from insurance upon death) should be placed in an assurance vie in order to protect it from inflation.
Luckily it is uncommon that a young child would lose one or both parents, but it is something that plays in the back of the mind of many parents so it is better having things in place to decide, who, how and with what means someone would look after your child in the best possible way.