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Six Feet Under

A grave at the Père Lachaise, Paris
A grave at the Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris

Do you remember the TV series from the early 2000s, “Six Feet Under”? I started rewatching the series recently on Netflix and I don’t know if I’m watching it because I decided to revisit my wills or if I’m revisiting my wills because I’m watching Six Feet Under.

Either way, it’s been a fascinating journey exploring death, via the TV show, as well as life, from real life. I could expound on both the virtues and failings of the series, but that’s not the point of this missive.

Artwork by Clair, a character in Six Feet Under

Artwork by Clair, a character in Six Feet Under

The point is that it’s expensive to die in France. Not for you, if you’re the dead person, but for the people who will inherit your assets—worldwide, if you are tax resident in France. Don’t confuse legal residency (your visa allowing you to reside in France more than 90 days) with tax residency. See the official French government site to determine how you qualify or not.

I realize now that the wills (both US and French) written 25 years ago, were ill thought-out, as I had no advice from anyone about how to manage the estate or the potential inheritance taxes the heirs would suffer. At the time I was young, my daughter was young and I had very little to bequeath. Since then a lot has changed.

One thing to keep in mind when considering your testament: when you are dead you won’t really care what happens to your assets. You’ll be dead, remember? But, if you want to do something good and smart for your kids, your family and your friends, so they won’t be paying a high price for their good fortune, you will want to plan correctly for your demise.

It’s a tough subject. Most people don’t want to discuss their own death, much less someone else’s, especially kids of people like me who are at an age when we really must think about it. They certainly don’t want to think about losing their parents…but they will. Everyone dies is one of the lessons learned from Six Feet Under.

Watching Six Feet Under has helped me face the issue of dying without emotion or fear. In fact, while I don’t want to die any time soon, and don’t believe I will since my mother lived to almost 98 and was in perfect health until that moment. I have never feared death, much like not fearing life. I let go of fear of any kind many years ago, thanks to the Eckhart Tolle philosophy of living in the Now. (See his site for Tolle’s view on Death and Dying.)

Quote on fear, by Eckhart Tolle

So, I took the bullish subject by the horns and contacted my various advisors. The first ones to start with are the financial people who know a lot about French inheritance laws and your personal assets. Brian Dunhill (financial advisor) and Jonathan Hadida (tax attorney) are my two go-to advisors who are strategically working out ways of moving my assets to my daughter so that she will not have to pay much French inheritance taxes on my world-wide assets—being tax resident in France means everything I own will be subject to taxation…everything.

There’s nothing simple about the process and am thankful to have them both. They are smart guys and have my best interests in mind. If you have not yet moved to France, but will be in the near future, then this is a very important step in getting your affairs in order if you intend to save your heirs money and hassle. I highly recommend investigating all this prior to making a property purchase in France so that you set up the “structure” of the title of the property to its best advantage.

One of the steps I took recently was to transfer the title of my Paris apartment to my daughter, so in effect, it’s her property now, not mine, and upon my death she will pay no taxes. I have kept the “usufruct,” giving me the right to use the property as I like and the right to collect income from it until my death. There was a cost to making the transfer (gift taxes + notarial taxes and fees), which were expensive, but not near as expensive for her if the inheritance taxes were imposed. The taxation rates are complicated (in typical French style), depend on the amount of the estate as evaluated at the time of death and on the closeness of the relationship. The more inherited, the more taxes they pay. The closer the relationship, the less they pay.

Flags of the US, EU, and France flying in Nice, France

The transition of assets will take a bit of time, but as I wrote early on, I think I have a bit more time…if my plan to live to be 100 plays out. Of course, that’s just wishful thinking. If I do die sooner, then at least an effort has been made and whatever happens, happens. I won’t be there to worry about it, remember.

After the assets, the only thing to consider is how and where to be buried or cremated. This is a tough decision, too, as in Jewish tradition, cremation is forbidden. “Burial is considered to allow the body to decompose naturally, therefore embalming is forbidden. Burial is intended to take place in as short an interval of time after death as possible. Displaying of the body prior to burial does not take place. Flowers are usually not found at a traditional Jewish funeral but may be seen at statesmen’s or heroes’ funerals in Israel.” (Source: Wikipedia.org)

It’s likely I’ll want to follow this idea, but that means I better get crackin’ to find a plot, etc. Now, having taken lessons from Six Feet Under, first I must decide where to be buried (France or US), and then what cemetery. My family is interred in New Orleans. There, above-ground tombs are the norm. When the French first established New Orleans in the early 18th century, the city was enveloped by bodies of water such as the Mississippi River, Lake Borgne, and Lake Pontchartrain, resulting in a notably elevated water table. This posed the risks of potential flooding of graves or even displacement of coffins. Hence, you find the famous New Orleans cemeteries with tombs much like the Père Lachaise in Paris. The Jewish cemeteries in New Orleans, however, bury underground in order to follow tradition.

The Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans

The Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans

Gertrude Beerman's (Adrian's Mother) grave in New Orleans

Gertrude Beerman’s (Adrian’s Mother) grave in New Orleans

Meanwhile, my advice to you is to:

1) Educate yourself on the tax regulations.
2) Prepare for the future of your heirs by consulting professionals: financial advisor, tax advisor, Notaire.
3) If you are tax resident in France or own property in France, create both a French will and one in your own country.
4) Do not fear death (or anything) and live life as if you will die tomorrow!

Quote on not fearing death, by Natalie Babbitt

Six Feet Under offers up many life lessons. Not just “everyone dies,” but “death is a part of life.” The character, Nate, says in season 1, “Death makes life important. Everything ends. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad. It just is.”

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds in an episode of House Hunters InternationalAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds GroupÂŽ

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