Some countries have succession or forced heirship regimes that can substantially affect U.S. estate planning for people with ties to both countries. First, you will need to understand how forced heirship works, and then understand how it can impact estate planning in the United States.
What Is Forced Heirship or Succession?
Forced heirship or succession refer to laws in some countries that require certain inheritances for children or spouses. In other words, your wishes about who receives which amount of property may be disregarded in favor of these laws. The inheritances passed to child or spouse cannot be conveyed to anyone else.
In France, forced heirship favors children. If you have one child, he or she must receive 50 percent of your assets after your death by law. If you have two children, they receive 66 percent of your assets (or 33 percent each). If you have three or more children, then they receive 75 percent of your assets shared equally among them.
There is no French requirement that your spouse receive part of the estate unless you have no children or grandchildren, in which case the spouse receives 25 percent of your assets. You can give the remainder of your assets after distribution to children, grandchildren, or spouse to anyone you choose.
How Does Forced Heirship Impact U.S. Estate Planning?
People with ties to countries with forced heirship laws must take care to understand the consequences for their estate planning. For example, people living in France may not realize that their United States real estate will not necessarily go to their children equally.
United States situs property (items physically located there or with other connections to the U.S.) may pass to relatives in accordance with U.S. laws. French property may pass to relatives in accordance with French laws. As a result, someone’s estate could be distributed in an unexpected way.
Further, a will or trust may not have the same effect in a forced heirship country as it might in the United States. French law disregards the contents of a will if it would violate forced heirship laws. Even if you think you have done estate planning, it simply may not work as you expected. Talking to an estate planning attorney with experience helping international clients can put you on the right path.
Planning your estate? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful estate planning advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.