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What is France’s certificate of inheritance, when do I need it?

The certificate is one of the options in simple inheritance cases, where smaller sums and no real estate are involved

The certificate is used when inheritances are on the small side Pic: slexp880 / Shutterstock

In the event of a person’s death in France, inheritance rules dictate what happens to their estate. 

A certificat d’hérédité, or certificate of inheritance, can be used to help heirs prove their relationship to the deceased person and allow them to undertake a number of tasks related to the inheritance process. 

This certificate is not usually issued when a deceased person is also leaving behind real estate, and is more commonly used when there are no disputes between the heirs as to how the assets are going to be shared out.

It is provided by some mairies, however there are alternatives (see below).

What does the certificate allow for? 

The certificate allows the inheritors to undertake administrative tasks that begin the inheritance process. 

Principally, it allows the heir(s) to release the money in the deceased’s bank account, allowing any outstanding debts to be paid off. 

For a spouse of the deceased it allows reversionary pension payments to begin and, in certain cases (and where appropriate), the two-year widow’s allowance to be paid. 

Finally, it allows lump sum inheritance payments to be made to the heirs. 

Who creates the certificate, and how?

Unlike the similar acte de notoriété  – which has to be drawn up by a notaire – the inheritance certificate is issued by the mairie (either of the deceased’s place of residence or their place of death or the place of residency of one of the heirs). 

The reason a notaire is not required is because, as mentioned, inheritance certificates are used for less complex cases, such as those not involving real estate, or when a spouse is still alive (and inherits the property, etc of the deceased). 

It is still possible for notaires to draw up a certificat d’hérédité in these cases however it is not mandatory.

An inheritance certificate can be used when the following conditions are met:

  • The estate does not include any real estate

  • There is no will

  • The deceased did not have a marriage contract (this is a specific document drawn up by a notaire indicating how property is owned within the marriage - not all married people have one)

  • There are no previous large lifetime gifts that must be accounted for

  • The value of the estate is less than €5,000

If the mairie is asked to issue the certificate, the procedure is free. A notaire is likely to charge between €70 – €100. 

For the certificate to be issued heirs will need to provide 

  • The death certificate issued for the deceased

  • The deceased’s livret de famille (family book) 

  • Proof of identity of the heir(s)

The certificate can take up to five weeks to be processed. 

A mairie can refuse to issue one if they believe the inheritance is too complex and requires an acte de noteriété instead. 

Another alternative exists

Some mairies no longer issue these certificates. 

In this case, or if you prefer to bypass the mairie process, an alternative exists which consists of drawing up an attestation yourself, signed by all the heirs, which should indicate:

  • Il n'existe pas de testament, ni d'autres héritiers du défunt (there is no will, or other heirs of the deceased)

  • Il n'existe pas de contrat de mariage (the deceased did not have a marriage contract)

  • La personne présentant le document est autorisée à percevoir, pour le compte des héritiers, les sommes figurant sur les comptes du défunt ou à clôturer ces derniers (the person presenting this document is authorised to receive, on behalf of the heirs, the amounts in the deceased’s account, or to close these accounts)

  • Il n'y a ni procès, ni contestation en cours concernant l'identification d'un héritier ou la composition de la succession (there is no trial, nor legal challenge underway concerning the identification of an heir or the estate to be inherited)

  • La succession ne comporte aucun bien immobilier (the inheritance does not include any real estate).

In this case, you also have to apply for a certificate proving there is no will. 

Related articles 

Will French step-children inherit my estate?

Explainer: Role of notaire in France and what to do if not happy

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