Two recent decisions of France's highest civil court have established that the children of a deceased French national whose estate is subject to a foreign succession law may not invoke French law to receive a share through the forced heirship laws.
The cases (Cour de Cassation case nos C101004, C101005) both concerned long-term Californian residents, known as Michel X and Maurice X. By coincidence, both were musical composers who had lived in the state for decades and married several times. Californian law does not recognise any form of forced heirship, and both musicians were accordingly able to leave their entire estates into trust for their surviving spouses, disinheriting their various children.
The musicians' children, also French nationals, went to court in France to assert their right to a share of the estates. They asked the French judge to set aside the application of Californian law on the grounds that it was contrary to French international public order, which, they said, incorporates France's forced heirship rules (the so-called 'reserve').
However, the Cour de Cassation dismissed both claims, having established first that the claimants were in fact adults at the time of their fathers' death, and that they were not claiming to be in a state of financial hardship or need.'
A foreign law to which the rule of conflict of laws applies and which excludes forced heirship is not in and of itself contrary to French international public policy', the court pronounced. 'It may not be set aside unless its actual application to the case in question leads to a situation that is inconsistent with rules of French law that are deemed to be fundamental.'
The rule that one cannot disinherit one's children must be now adjusted in the international context, commented Sylvie Lerond of law firm CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang. 'When an estate is duly subject to a foreign law which excludes forced heirship, the children of the deceased who are not deemed in need may not invoke French law to receive their forced share.'