French Revolution

 In Probate

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Since 2006, Title Research has built an increasingly strong track record in France: we conduct genealogical and missing beneficiary research throughout that jurisdiction, and we also repatriate and transfer assets – e.g. houses, land, bank accounts or shares – to the UK.

In France, in common with much of Europe, genealogical research is not always as straightforward as it would be in England and Wales, where research is aided considerably by a centralised record system, and where records are in the public domain.  Records in France are decentralised to the level of département (roughly similar to an English county) and commune (similar to an English parish or district), which are managed from the mairie (town hall).  There are 100 départements in total, and 36,569 communes in mainland France.  The département of Paris alone consists of 20 municipal arrondissements, each with their own records of birth, marriage and death.  In addition, there are strict data access restrictions and personal privacy laws, and electoral registration is not obligatory.  There are few centrally held (and freely available) resources to aid research.  If you lack crucial information about where in France your missing legatee lived, for example, research can seem daunting.

However, we are able to commence research with relatively little diagnostic detail, although the prospects for a swift and successful result are greatly increased in proportion to the detail that can be provided.  Our French research associate, based in central France, makes use of an extensive network of contacts and special access to certain records, to bring a wide variety of matters to a successful conclusion. Our success rate is over 98%.

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Case study: turning over old stones

When Catherine Morgan* died in England, intestate, her first cousin Hilda took out the Grant of Letters of Administration to her estate, as Mrs Morgan had died a widow, without children, and with no surviving parents or siblings (of the half or whole blood).  The cousin, who was a maternal first cousin, the niece of Mrs Morgan’s mother Helen Morgan née Webster, seemed to be able to provide a good deal of information about her sizeable family, which originated in Wiltshire.  Mrs Morgan’s father’s side was something of a mystery, on the other hand.  One or two of the older family members recollected that Mrs Morgan’s father, Charles Vincent, was of French origin.  There was no further information about Charles’s past, or the existence of paternal uncles and aunts, whose issue would stand to benefit on intestacy.  A thorough search of the papers in Mrs Morgan’s house yielded one or two old address books with French names and addresses; her father’s French birth certificate and an old French passport; and a variety of old letters.

Once our in-house French speaker had made a thorough examination of the papers sent in by our client, we forwarded all useful information to our French research associate, who then visited in person the mairie where Charles was born, to establish whether other events (the births of any siblings, or the marriage of his parents) were registered there.  Through systematic research of this and neighbouring mairies we were able to establish that Charles had two brothers.  Through systematic research and interviews with family members, ultimately eight beneficiaries were located in France.  All supplied copies of their birth certificates and, where appropriate, marriage certificates.  Better still, one was able to produce a livret de famille – a sort of family register, found in countries such as Germany, Spain, China and Japan – which provided immediate confirmation of events of birth, marriage and death in relation to his immediate family, including confirmation of its extent.

Succession law in France, as in Spain and much of Europe, of course differs significantly from English and Welsh law.  The French beneficiaries had some difficulty at first in understanding the English system, since the concept of ‘probate’ and Personal Representatives is somewhat alien: in France intestate succession is regulated by the Code Civil, and an heir can inherit estate liabilities as well as benefit, directly from the estate.

While the work in France was progressing well, a new problem was developing at home.  The maternal Webster family in England consisted of eight uncles and aunts, and two in particular had died leaving large families themselves.  It transpired that the family had become scattered, and extensive research was eventually needed to resolve the position on the outstanding lines of one uncle and one aunt, and to locate all entitled heirs.  In fact, the English family was by far the more complicated and time-consuming of the two families to research.  We finally located 48 beneficiaries in the UK, France and Canada.

* All names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals.

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