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French and U.S. Estate Planning

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Trusts and Estates; Estate Planning and Administration of International Estates.

In general, the estate of an American citizen is required to file a timely U.S. estate tax return despite his or her residence and domicile in another country at the time of his death. Typically, probate is required in one or more states in the U.S. and a similar procedure may be required in France as well. Probate in France refers to the notarial system. I act as liaison between the executor and/or the family in the U.S. and the French probate process, using the good offices of French Notaires and French fiscal experts.

The French process is often a long and tedious process, and having an English- speaking intermediary is of great help and comfort. This is enhanced by the fact that we can explain the French system to the U.S. executor, lawyers and heirs and can help the French Notaire to understand the language and implications of the applicable testamentary documents originating in the U.S. as well as to explain the probate process itself. If a US citizen is also domiciled for estate tax purposes in France, an estate plan should be structured that will harmonize the two systems.

The process of estate planning starts with an understanding of your goals. This usually involves providing for your immediate family, but may also extend to others, including children from a prior marriage. Once your objectives have been stated, we work out how to implement them. For example, should you have one will or more than one will? What about the trust you created before moving to France? Can you create a U.S. trust now that you reside in France? Is there other planning you should do prior to becoming resident? The estate planning process includes recommending and preparing the appropriate testamentary documents for your needs. We work with “Notaires” and a range of other professionals. We are experienced in administering international estates and guiding heirs through the intricacies of the French and U.S. probate process.

Other items that are considered: 

  • How the French gift tax and estate tax (aka, “succession tax” or “inheritance tax”) rules work in practice and how they are impacted by the U.S.-French Estate Tax Treaty.
  • Preparation of U.S. and French wills and U.S. trusts, both revocable and irrevocable, for French domiciliaries and non-domiciliaries.
  • Preparation of U.S. and French wills and U.S. trusts, both revocable and irrevocable, for French domiciliaries and non-domiciliaries, with emphasis on the new French law that dramatically affects U.S trust—those existing and those contemplated.
  • Analysis of the impact of French "forced heirship" laws (enforced rights of children to a share of their parents' estates) on existing estate plans and taking those rights into account when planning an estate, including possible implementation of the new pre-death renunciation rules in the French law.
  • Harmonizing U.S. and French gift tax exemptions in the context of a lifetime gift program.
  • French taxation of gifts and legacies from abroad.
  • Understanding the available marital regime changes that will reduce or delay tax, and also keep “forced heirs” at bay until the death of the second spouse.
  • Taking into account the rights of children from a previous marriage.
  • Understanding the role of the French Notaire.
  • Special problems of U.S. citizens married to non-citizens of the U.S.
  • Tax domicile questions, including Estate & Gift Tax Treaty issues.

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