When a death occurs
If the death occurs at home, contact a doctor and ask him/her to come and certify the death. In the event of a death in hospital or other medical facility, the staff will take care of the certification. In case of unusual circumstances (accident, suicide, etc.), the police/gendarmes should be contacted. They will take the necessary steps. At the time of death, only the doctor is authorised to issue a death certificate. This document is mandatory for the funeral home to be able to intervene.
Respect the wishes of the deceased
If you don't already know, you should check whether the deceased had expressed any wishes about his or her funeral. Did he or she want to be buried, cremated or wished his body to be donated to science?
If you need to organise a funeral, you need to contact the funeral company ("Pompes Funèbres" in French). The Pompes Funèbres are the only companies authorised to organise funerals in France. However, you are completely free of your choice.
Declaring the death
You must report the death to the town hall of the commune where the death occurred within 24 hours. The funeral home can do this for you. You will need identification for yourself and the deceased as well as the deceased's marriage or birth certificate, address, relatives and maiden name (if applicable).
On receipt of the declaration, the town hall will draw up a death certificate.
The preparation meeting
To prepare the funeral, you must meet with a funeral director. It is with him that you will organise the whole funeral. This includes the transport of the body, the resting place in the funeral home, the choice of coffin, the ceremony, the burial... etc
Within 6 days: The funeral
The funeral in France must take place within 6 working days (excluding Sundays and Bank holidays) of the death, except in exceptional circumstances.
A delay can be granted by the prefecture if the reason is justified. This request for a derogation from the deadline is made by the Funeral Home.
Statutory bereavement leave
Employees and civil servants are entitled to a leave in the event of death.
There are 3 days leave for the loss of a spouse, civil partner or partner-in-law, parents, parents-in-law or siblings and 5 days leave for a child. If your job is governed by a union or collective agreement, you may be entitled to more and/or to a leave for other relatives.
You can request that the funeral expenses be paid from the deceased's bank account up to a limit of €5000, if the funds in the account allow. If there are not enough funds then the children or grandchildren of the deceased or, failing that, their parents or grandparents will have to pay. If the deceased had no living relatives, the local council will organise the burial of the body and either take the funds from the estate or pay for it from the local council's budget. The Funeral Home will hold the person who placed the order responsible for the invoice, but that person can then ask other relatives to contribute, and they are obliged to do so as long as they have sufficient resources and the expenses are not excessive (for example an expensive headstone or monument). If someone refuses to pay, they can be taken to court by the family.
More information on service-public.fr
What to do with ashes?
It is illegal to keep ashes in your home in France, except for a brief period when you are awaiting to scatter them or bury the urn.
There are strict rules about what you can do with them:
- You can scatter ashes in the middle of nature, defined as forests, woods, and mountains, but not gardens or parks, whether public or private, fields and cultivated areas, public roads, waterways and streams. The family of the deceased must have access to the place where the ashes were scattered in perpetuity.
For scattering at sea, the ashes must be scattered at least 3 miles from the coast. If an urn is to be placed in the water, this distance is increased to 5 miles and the urn must be biodegradable. For scattering or immersing at sea, a declaration must be made to the harbour master's office of the ship's departure.
Air scattering - there is no specific legislation on this, but it must be done in a natural area as defined above.
- Burial on private property is allowed only rarely and only under strict conditions.
- Repatriation: if you wish to repatriate the ashes, you must obtain permission from the Prefecture,
have the ashes sealed in an urn and take the death certificate and cremation certificate with you. (This certificate is supplied by the Crematorium after the cremation). You should also inform your airline and find out if you are supposed to take the urn with you in the cabin or check it in. See the UK government website for more information.
In France: It is the responsibility of the family to declare to the birth town hall of the deceased what has become of the ashes. A register will be kept of the name of the deceased and the place and date of scattering.
- Municipalities with more than 2,000 inhabitants are required to have a " cinerary area" in their cemetery. It is a space dedicated to the scattering of ashes.
- You can also bury an urn in an existing grave or columbarium space, or have it sealed onto the grave monument. This can only be done by a funeral director and must be authorised by the town hall of the cemetery concerned.
Most French people are not buried in the English sense of the word - they are buried in a concrete family grave. If you wish to choose this option, the funeral director will discuss with you the purchase of the concession and possible marble work.
Please note: in France, you can buy a concession from the town hall in the commune where you lived and/or where you died.
Repatriation of the body
This must be arranged by an undertaker who can help with the paperwork. The law states that the body must be embalmed and then placed in a zinc airtight coffin. You will also need the death certificate translated into English, permission to close the coffin, a 'non-contagion certificate (that the deceased did not have an infectious disease) from a doctor, and a 'non-epidemic certificate' from the Regional Health Agency. Once back in the UK, there are further formalities to be completed. These are explained on the UK government website. As soon as possible and at least within the first month
Ask for a copy of the death certificate: you can obtain a copy from the town hall of the commune of death. Copies are free and available to anyone who requests them. If you and the deceased had children of French nationality, you must have the “livret de famille” (family record book) updated.
If the deceased was subject to French inheritance law, then you have various obligations to fulfil. A notary can help you with this.
You should go through the deceased's papers and keep anything that is still within the legal retention limit. Make a note of any debts, obligations or money owed to the deceased.
If the deceased had children who are still minors, you must apply to the guardianship judge of the district court, who will ensure that their assets are protected.
You can ask a bailiff to draw up an inventory of the deceased's movable property or to affix seals if you are concerned that they will be taken before the estate is settled.
Do not forget to check what pension rights you may have as a widow/er of the deceased. Also ask the health insurance company to reimburse any medical expenses and check whether there are any salary savings due if the deceased worked for a private company.
Inform the banks so that they can freeze the deceased's accounts. You can check the register of bank accounts (Ficoba) to make sure that none are missing.
Contact Agira (the association for the management of information on insurance risks), which will check whether there are any life insurance (death insurance) or life savings (life insurance) policies.
Contact home, car, etc. insurance companies to cancel policies.
Cancel all current contracts for telephone, water, electricity, etc. Inform the landlord if the deceased was a tenant. Contact the tenants if they were landlords so that they know where to pay the rent, as the normal bank account will be frozen. In the first 6 months: sort out the house.