The inheritance option

Benjamin A. Kergueno, LL.M > Inheritance law > The inheritance option
The inheritance option

When a death occurs, the named heirs benefit under French law from a three-pronged option with regard to the inheritance.

This inheritance option is governed by articles 768 et seq. of the French Civil Code, under which it is possible to either:

  • accept the inheritance outright
  • accept up to the amount of the net assets
  • renounce the inheritance.

This option is, first of all, pure and simple: it cannot be exercised conditionally or at term. Nor can it be exercised before the commencement of the inheritance.

The option is also personal: each heir of a French inheritance opts for his or her own account, independently of any co-heirs, and only the heir can, in principle, accept.

The only exception to this is found in article 779 of the French Civil Code and concerns any creditors of the heir who may be authorised to accept the inheritance in the place of an heir who renounces or refrains from accepting an inheritance.

As they too have a vocation as an extension of the person of the deceased, universal legatees or legatees by universal title benefit, just like the legal heirs, from this triple option. The legatee by particular title can only accept or refuse the legacy made to him/her.

Finally, the option is indivisible: one can only accept or renounce a part of the inheritance.

However, an heir may be involved in several capacities in a French inheritance. In this way, a person who is a legal heir and a beneficiary will have a separate right of option for each inheritance claim.

So what are the options?

Outright acceptance

Outright acceptance implies that the heir or legatee with universal vocation accepts the assets and liabilities of the inheritance. He or she will not, in principle, be able to revoke his or her acceptance, except under very limited conditions.

This can be done expressly, but also tacitly, when the heir performs an act of true inheritance, for example by selling a property belonging to the inheritance.

Finally, outright acceptance may be imposed by law when an heir conceals property or information relating to the inheritance.

Acceptance up to the amount of the net assets

Acceptance up to the amount of the net assets allows the heir’s liability to be limited; in the past, this was known as acceptance under the benefit of inventory.

This option leads to a judicial liquidation of the inheritance under the responsibility of the heirs, making it possible to show the liabilities that the assets will then cover.

The heirs will then only be liable for liabilities up to the limit of the assets collected and will not commit their own assets in the presence of debts.

Acceptance up to the amount of the net assets is not revocable, but it is possible to transform it into an outright acceptance.


Renunciation excludes the heir from the inheritance; he or she is deemed never to have received the inheritance.

He or she may then be represented by his or her own descendants, failing which his or her renunciation will increase the inheritance share of the other heirs.

As a serious act, renunciation cannot be presumed and must, therefore, be certain. It can be received at the registry of the Court of Justice but also directly at the notary as of 2017.

Moreover, it is sufficient to remain silent for ten years in order to be considered a renunciant.

Unlike acceptances, renunciation remains, in principle, revocable for ten years, provided that another heir has not accepted and the State has not been given possession.


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