Inheritance law change could lead to thousands of house sales

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The Independent Online

The French government is proposing the most far-reaching changes for two centuries in its byzantine laws of inheritance.

The French government is proposing the most far-reaching changes for two centuries in its byzantine laws of inheritance.

One consequence, if the reform is adopted, could be the release on to the property market of tens of thousands of barely used houses, owned jointly by several siblings.

French inheritance law, dating from 1804, has been blamed for a host of ills, including the fall of the national birth-rate in the 19th century.

Parents are obliged to divide their will equally among their children. Property left jointly, such as houses or businesses, cannot be sold without agreement of all heirs.

The changes proposed by Dominique Perben, the Justice Minister, would bring the French civil code "in line with changes in the modern family".

If all potential heirs agree, the estate could be split to favour an especially needy person, such as a handicapped child. A business or house or farm could be left to one heir, with the advance agreement of all the others.

Under the existing law of "indivision", there are said to be thousands of empty or barely used houses, mostly rural, subject to interminable disputes or legal suits and cannot be sold.

Some demographers say the fall in the French birth rate in the 19th century - leading to a loss of French political and military power - can be traced to the 1804 rules. Peasants decided to have only one child to prevent disputes over the ownership of the family's land.

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