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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello

I don't actually live in France myself, but my parents purchased a holiday/retirement home over there in 1988 and, over the years, gradually spent more and more of their time there. Two years ago they decided to move to Pontivy and make the move permanent - renting out their UK property as an additional income source.

All well and good ... albeit that their grandchildren missed them, Mum and Dad were enjoying their retirement. However at 69 and 79 respectively and both with chronic, if not life threatening, health problems, their children inevitably worried about them (there are 4 of us - 2 being the natural children of my Mother and 3 being my Step-Father's natural issue). As a Funeral Director here in the UK I was especially concerned about what would happen when the inevitability of death reared it's head, and I tried repeatedly to persuade them to make arrangements, or at least to make their wishes known (not via myself I hasten to add!!), but I always met with a brick wall of denial.

Two weeks ago the inevitable happened - my Mother died suddenly and completely unexpectedly from a massive stroke - leaving our Father bereft, isolated and totally ill equipped to deal with the realities and complexities of the French beaurocracy that surrounds death in France - to say nothing of the realities of the French Inheritance Laws!

Conversational French rarely covers such essentials as 'when will the coffin be closed' or 'my daughter would like to lay out my wife herself' - let alone the nightmare of arranging full repatriation. Crematoriums are few and far between, French Funeral Directors generally speak about as much English as English Funeral Directors do French (quite understandably), Anglican Ministers are rarer than hen's teeth and French law requires disposal of the body within 6 working days :eek:

So ... all 4 UK based children had to abandon their jobs and children to rush over to rural west France (at vast personal expense) in order to support Dad, make arrangements as best we could and try to sort out the legal mess that exists despite Mum having both French and English wills.... the funeral service was bizaare to say the least and at times the whole experience was so farcical that hysterical laughter was our only option!

I'm guessing that it will continue in the same vein for many, many months if not years to come, and that there are many more trips to be made and legal hoops to jump through for all of us before we can try to move forward, or get the house safely sold and Dad back here where we can keep an eye on him and KNOW he is safe and well.

Despite the obvious grief, all 4 of us siblings also feel an overwhelming anger at having been put into an impossible position ... which is really why I'm posting on here today.

Please, Please, I beg you - make sure that you have made full funeral arrangements (preferably detailed and pre-paid); that these are available to your family in both French and English; that you have a contingency fund set aside to pay for your next of kin to reach you in an emergency (children almost always do not let their parents know how tight their financial situations really are); that your children have already signed away their inheritance to your partner if that is your wish; that you have a full French will and that you completely understand the full implications of choosing to live away from your home country for both yourselves and your families.

Thanks for letting me vent ... I hope I've given you some food for thought and discussion :)
 
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My condolences LMM, it's always a massive blow to lose a parent suddenly, especially so when in a foreign land and the widower is stranded and unable to cope. I've lost both parents in France as well as a partner, and it's not so bad when you speak the language - the procedures involved with the funeral directors and crematoriums aren't really much more complicated than back in the UK, and things went as smoothly as one could expect, in the circumstances.

I'm sorry you didn't happen on this forum sooner - there are many kind-hearted folk here who would have been able to advise and possibly help in a more concrete fashion. The funeral parlours have a standard booklet that they give to the next of kin, explaining procedures from A to Z - in French of course.

I hope the anger turns to more positive thoughts soon, and please do come and ask on the forum if you are struggling with any other problems on the French side, we may have some ideas on how to proceed.
 

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Let me add my condolences as well - and also heart-felt thanks for posting this. It's one aspect of expatriation that many of us are loathe to talk about (especially with parents) and certainly one that can get very complicated very quickly.

Then again, there is also much the same issue for those of us married to foreign nationals and living in their country. I learned lots about the French laws, customs and assumptions when my (French) husband's parents died, but to some extent only enough to convince me that it's going to be a real trauma should my husband pre-decease me. We've taken some measures (e.g. a donation entre epoux) but there are children from a prior marriage, other family members, different customs beliefs and expectations, and all sorts of other matters that will get complicated very quickly.

I've handled the deaths of both of my parents from a distance (i.e. back home in the US) while living in France and even when you have the local language and a pretty good understanding of local customs, there are always family matters and inheritance stuff that pops up when you least expect it.

So many thanks for your post. Death and inheritance planning is a big part of being an expat, and needs to be considered, even for those younger expats just getting started.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Thanks frogblogger :) Anger is a perfectly normal part of the grief process anyway, and I do accept that ... and also know that it will dissipate soon enough.

To be fair the Funeral Director was a sweetie - and my extremely rusty schoolgirl french was just about up to explaining our professional ties LOL.... and yes, you are right in that the proceedures in France are not so very different from the UK, so I was able to understand exactly what was happening in terms of registration and funeral home practices. Having said that - most people don't understand what is going on when they book a funeral over here, let alone their having to go through it in a foreign language.... which is something that I believe expats should consider.

Our parents' utopian dream of retiring abroad and living out their twilight years in a haze of balmy weather, lazy afternoons chatting to the French neighbours, tending the garden and vegetable patch and breakfasting on fresh baguette was wonderful, and they enjoyed it for many years ... but we, as their children, did not choose to be landed with the financial, linguistic and emotional nightmare of picking up the pieces when the inevitable happened :(

For many years my husband and I have looked forward to retiring to Austria once the last of our own 3 children has flown the nest and settled down - since two weeks ago I know for certain that it is not something I will now be doing.

Many thanks for your offer of help - I may yet take you up on that as, unfortunately, despite my Mother's will being extremely clear about wanting everything to go to Dad ... that little green greed imp (aided and abetted by French Inheritance Law) looks like taking over my maternal half sibling - which may well lead to Dad being unable to sell the property at all :mad:

Death, and it's inevitability, is something that a lot of people have difficulty in even thinking about, let alone discussing, but when living abroad and away from immediate family it is even more important that detailed arrangements are in place.... especially in France where the constricting time limits allow little time for exploring the options to non-residents seeking to make arrangements.

Thanks Bev - by posting today I really had hoped to raise awareness of the need to address these issues :)
 

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Hi,
I see from the OP's last post that this was a family with children from a previous marriage. The OP will now know what a nightmare this can cause in a french succession.
I would emphasise most strongly to anyone in a second marriage with children from a previous relationship that it is ESSENTIAL to get advice on succession matters, and get their succession sorted out NOW! Even if they are comparatively young , the unexpected can always happen and no-one wants to add continuing family strife to grief at their death.
 

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May I add my condolences also ? It is a difficult time for you now and the bureaucracy involved in sorting everything out only makes the whole process harder - although it is distracting so your grief will be less anguishing as you cope with all of that. Anger and blame and guilt are all part of the process as well - so no black marks against you for those.

My partner died in Calais just three weeks before moving down here and that was my first introduction to the French system of after-death. It was complicated because we had no formal arrangement in place and he had left a daughter and grandchildren in the UK. However, it got sorted.

My father died on a visit here last year - not entirely unexpectedly - I think he came here TO die, but we had had many opportunities to discuss his wishes, and he had made practical (ie ready cash) provision for all 3 of his children to be together - that was for my brother and his family and my sister to come over here for the cremation, and for me and my daughter to return to the UK to sort things out. Both he and my mother had also made a point through their latter years of ensuring that any time any of us left the family home after a visit, we took with us something we wanted to keep - consequently, when Dad died here, he was surrounded by many of the things he had enjoyed in his own home for many years. Of course, all of that hasn't prevented all the sibling issues seeing light of day - repeatedly - but there was no way that could have been avoided :-/

The point I want to make is that the way the two deaths were treated varied between what happened (and what choices) we had in Calais and the way things are here. In comparison with my mother's death in the UK in 2004, I do have to say that my father's death - and his family - were treated with substantially more dignity and openness/honesty than in the UK.

Both my daughter and I have made ourselves available to the local Pompes Funebres in the event of their needing interpreters or translators in the future as there is a fairly large and elderly expat population here.

On an associated note, my daughter, now post-Bac, is about to commence courses with le Voeu to become a funeral director in her own right, to practice (!) here in France. She subsequently intends to train as an embalmer. Whilst I, as the mother of a 19 year-old daughter, wouldn't necessarily have chosen this as an uplifting career path (being a dead-end job etc etc ha-ha), I do have a problem finding any objections. Even in a recession, the role is required and it is well regulated by the French State (for better or for worse). My daughter would undoubtedly find it interesting to talk to you sometime in the future when you all have advanced a bit more in sorting things out for your father.

Again, my condolences, and my even greater sympathies for your father to be the one "left behind" and in a strange country. My experience has been that widowers find it more difficult to cope than widows (although there will be any number of widows prepared to help him), but we should also remember that our fathers' generation survived the war and its aftermath, and they are considerably more resilient (cantankerous) than we give them credit for.

Keep your chin up; it will all pass and you will look back and wonder how you coped, but you will have coped, and as you say, you are now better informed for making your own decisions.

Hope all goes as well as it can ....
Hils
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank You so much to all of you who took the trouble to reply to my original post :)

Parsnip - you are so right ... it is chiefly the children from multiple marriages issue which is causing problems. I have been aware that this would be a problem from long before Mum passed away - and if they had only listened to me and had Tontines signed then and there, a lot of the paperwork now passing between France ans the UK would not have been necessary.

Ah well C'est la vie.

Hils ... your daughter is embarking on the most rewarding, satisfying and interesting career path possible. I came into the profession late and can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a job so much (though it is by necessity more of a vocation than a mere 'job'). I wish her all the very best - and will happily chat to her about it should she wish to do so :)

I would also like to thank you for acting as translator and guide to other families - we were also fortunate enough to have a local bi-lingual helper (affiliated to a small anglican church in our case) and she has indeed been an absolute Godsend. People who voluntarily help out like this really cannot be thanked enough ((((HUG))))

Now - I do need some advice (or rather Dad does) - and I will post a separate question about it on here, but ....

Dad's car (right hand drive)was originally registered in the UK.... when he became Resident in France, he re-registered it onto French plates and took out French Insurance:

How does he go about switching back to UK plates and re-registering in the UK?

How does he get the V5 and his other documents back from the French Authorities/Insurance? (I'm not too clear who exactly is holding them).

Any advice/help would be gratefully recieved as he is worrying himself over little details like this, and the more I can resolve for him the less anxious he will be.
 
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