Losing a loved one is never easy, and when it happens in a foreign country, it can be particularly challenging. In this blog, we aim to provide English speakers in France with essential information on the legal steps and practicalities of organizing a funeral after the death of a family member.
Since, Assist Virtual Support Solutions was established we have helped support a number of families dealing with loss in France.
The situation is never easy, whatever country you are in, but when you do not speak the language fluently, navigating the process becomes much harder.
In order to support our clients at this difficult time we have created the following blog which covers the steps to take after a death in France.
We have given some examples of how the Slee Family coped with the unexpected and sudden death of their father and grandfather, which was particularly hard when they found themselves having to inform everyone, deal with legalities and organise a funeral within the 6 days allowed in France between death and the funeral.
Understanding the Process
The Initial Steps (within 24 hours):
- Contact a Doctor: The first and most crucial step is to contact a doctor to officially declare the death. The doctor will issue a death certificate, which is required for various administrative processes. If the death has occurred in Hospital, the hospital will deal with this.
- Funeral Service: Contact a funeral service or undertaker to manage the burial, cremation, or repatriation of the deceased. It’s advisable to request a detailed quote in advance, as funeral costs can vary significantly.
- Declaration at the Mairie: Visit the local Mairie (town hall) to declare the death officially. This is a legal requirement and must be done within 24 hours.
Arranging the Funeral (within 6 days):
- Funeral and Burial/Cremation Arrangements: Within the next six days, you’ll need to start making arrangements for the funeral. It’s essential to consider the wishes of the deceased and the family’s preferences.
- Cremation vs. Burial: Decide whether you want to cremate or bury the deceased.
- Embalming: In France, embalming is not common unless there is a delay between the death and the funeral.
“For the Slee family they opted for a traditional church burial, this added the extra steps of organising with the local Church, the excavation of the site (organised by the funeral home in liaison with the family – the deceased had already purchased the plot of land) and organising the service. As the deceased was well know at the church, the deacons visited the family and took into consideration the family’s wishes and arrangements for songs and prayers.”
Things to note for a funeral:
The day of the funeral is very different to UK services, especially in rural areas.
The crematorium requires music to be prepared by the family (usually on a USB), there are usually 6 songs played during the service at various stages. If you have a celebrant or religious member to deliver a reading or memories of the deceased, you will need to organise this. Without preparation on the family’s part a cremation is a very quick 10–15-minute service. But don’t be afraid to inform the funeral home that you would like to include more.
A church service is usually carried out by the Deacons unless you have a priest or celebrant you wish to use. As with the cremation, if you want particular songs or prayers, you can request them. The church usually has a format of prayers and songs that are used as well, and they will discuss with you in advance.
- Transportation: The funeral director can arrange transportation of the deceased to a chosen location for the ceremony, be it a church, crematorium, or burial site.
- Religious or Secular Ceremony: France is a secular country, but you can have a religious ceremony if desired. Ensure to coordinate with the local religious authority if you choose this option.
- Documentation for Burial: If you opt for burial, you will need to choose a cemetery and complete the necessary paperwork. Be prepared for ongoing maintenance costs.
- Funeral Costs: Funeral expenses can be high in France. Check if the deceased had any insurance that might cover these costs.
- Memorial Service: It’s common to hold a memorial service on the day or even a few days after the funeral. You can invite friends and family to pay their respects.
In the Weeks Following (up to one month)
- Obtain a Death Certificate: You can get a copy of the death certificate (intégrale d’acte de décès) from the Mairie. This document is usually issued for free and can be obtained immediately upon request.
- Inheritance Certificate: Heirs need to request an inheritance certificate (certificat d’hérédité) from the local Mairie of the deceased or their own Mairie if residing in France. This certificate may be required for various administrative processes, and you will need to provide proof of identity and your relationship to the deceased.
- Act of Recognition: To handle certain matters like closing bank accounts and changing ownership on vehicle registration documents, the deceased’s spouse or immediate heir will need an “Act of recognition” (acte de notoriété héréditaire). This document is issued by a notary and provides proof of heirship.
- Notifying Relevant Parties: In the weeks following the death, it’s crucial to notify various parties and organisations, including the deceased’s employer (if applicable), landlord (if applicable), bank, and any organisations where the deceased held policies, such as insurance and credit.
- Health Insurance and Mutuelle: Notify the deceased’s CPAM health insurance office and submit the Carte Vitale. Death benefits are typically paid to the surviving heirs, and final medical expenses (if applicable) are reimbursed. Also, don’t forget to inform the deceased’s Mutuelle (complementary health insurance) and life insurance provider.
- Pensions and Unemployment Authorities: If relevant, notify the relevant pensions and unemployment authorities.
- Dissolve PACS Relationship: If the deceased was in a PACS (civil solidarity pact) relationship, it must be dissolved by the court (Greffier du tribunal d’instance) where the PACS was initially registered. The French Government provides detailed information on PACS inheritance rights.
Handling Legal Matters (within 6 months):
- Contact a Lawyer or Notaire: It’s advisable to contact a lawyer or Notaire to manage the dissolution of the estate. This includes the release of inheritance and the declaration and payment of inheritance taxes.
“For the Slee family the deceased had prepared a full legacy document listing all his wants (for the funeral, songs, prayers etc.), arrangements for his personal belongings and property and he had also prepared a full set of financial documents. This made the first days after his death a little easier to manage for the family.”
Wrapping Up Loose Ends:
- Notify Service Providers: Within a reasonable period, typically one to six months, it’s essential to notify all service providers, such as telephone, water, electricity, and any other individuals or organisations relevant to the deceased. This includes vehicle insurance and registration, other insurance policies, and tenants (if applicable).
While dealing with the death of a family member is undoubtedly a challenging and emotional process, understanding the legal and practical steps involved can help ease the burden. Additionally, enlisting the help of professionals such as notaries and lawyers can provide valuable guidance and support during this difficult time.
As we mentioned the Slee family had access to a full Legacy Guide to help plan their loved ones funeral, we have this guide available to our followers, so please just contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will share it with you.
Should you require any assistance with our Funeral Support Service please get in touch: email@example.com