You are an heir to an estate – FAQ

Andriveau » You are an heir to an estate – FAQ
You have been contacted by a probate genealogist because you are the heir to an estate. This can lead to many questions, especially since resolution times can sometimes be rather long, depending on how complex the case is.
In order to find answers to your questions, we invite you to consult our Frequently Asked Questions.


A relative of yours, whom you may not know, has passed away, and you are unaware that you have a rightful claim on his estate. Since he has not met the heirs and he may not know their address or even whether they exist, the notaire (French public officer) in charge of the succession commissions a genealogist who, after an extensive investigation, has identified you and is now contacting you.

The search for heirs is slow, meticulous work, consisting in drawing an exhaustive list of heirs starting from the name of the deceased. Civil status registries, population censuses, registration archives, local surveys, the genealogist resorts to all of these means. He then reconstructs the family tree in its legal reality. His concern is not only that of locating living heirs, but also that of ensuring that no other heirs, whether forgotten or ignored, exist.
Thus, the genealogist enters the lives of families, sometimes discovering hidden children or buried secrets.
This work takes the form of a large genealogical chart that will be appended to the notarial deed.

The notaire may simply not know you or how to locate you. If no heir comes to him, or if he lacks sufficient proof that those who do present themselves are the only ones, he must, in good conscience, call on a genealogist, but he is not required to replace him, because their two professions are quite different.
Moving to town halls to consult civil status or to archives to check out population censuses is the genealogist’s task while, on the other hand, the notaire drafts the deeds. Some investigations may require frequent travel, both in France and abroad,
The genealogist is specialized in the study of families and can therefore carry out an investigation. The search for heirs requires the mobilisation of investigators with experience in this meticulous work. Most procedures require the expertise of professionals with administrative authorizations that grant them access to civil-status registers.

You can inherit from the descendants of the siblings of your four grandparents. Investigations often reveal many surprises: a deceased person might have named a distant cousin of yours as his heir, this cousin might also have passed away, and you might know nothing of the entire situation. Sometimes, there are even parts of your family’s history that you don’t know.

The genealogist sends you an estate-disclosure contract for the very purpose of disclosing your rights. The origin of the estate, the amount of the inheritance, your quality as heir: all of these are part of the revelation. This information is communicated or confirmed to you as soon as the genealogist has received your agreement.

This contract sets the genealogist’s remuneration and offers you a guarantee of successful conclusion to the investigation that will protect you against any inheritance risk. The contract assures you that you will not have to pay any amount other than the fees strictly defined in this contract. Above all, this agreement protects you against any financial risk, including that of an insolvent estate.

The genealogist is remunerated with the consent of the heirs. This is why he must first obtain your agreement, so that he bay collect his fees for the service he has rendered you by identifying you, locating you, and making you aware of your inheritance rights.

If he has no assurance of being paid, the genealogist is not required to communicate your details to the notaire because, were he to do so, he would be working for free and would not be compensated for his efforts.

The French Civil Code sets out the manner in which an inheritance must be transmitted; this is called the descent cast. Article 731 of the Civil Code stipulates that “the succession may only devolve to the deceased’s parents and the spouse entitled to inherit”. Ranking rule 1st rank :
  • Descendants in a direct line
  • All offspring, whether legitimate, born out of wedlock or adulterine, have the same rights
2nd rank (mixed) :
  • Privileged ascendants (father and mother) and privileged collaterals (brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grand-nephews and grand-nieces), etc.
3rd rank :
  • Ordinary ascendants (grandparents and great-grandparents).
4th rank :
  • Ordinary collaterals up to the 6th degree (Civil Code, Art. 745): uncles and aunts, cousins in the 4th, 5th and 6th degree.
Degrees rule The degree of kinship is defined by the number of generations, each generation constituting an additional degree. Direct line Direct line is the sequence of degrees between people descended one from the other (e.g. children or grandchildren). There are as many degrees as there are generations between persons: thus, in relation to his father, a son is in the first degree, a grandson in the second. Collateral line A collateral line is the sequence of degrees between people who do not descend from one another, but who descend from a common source. Degrees are counted by generation, from one of the parents to the common author: thus, two brothers are in the second degree (the parents in the first degree and they in the second), the uncle and the nephew are in the third degree, first cousins are in the fourth. Collateral relatives do not inherit beyond the sixth degree.
The genealogist signs an estate-disclosure contract with you. In this contract, he discloses to you the rights to an estate you may assert, rights you did not know of before he intervened; had you known, you would naturally have informed the notaire. With this contract, the genealogist undertakes to disclose your rights and their exact origin. In return, you agree to grant the genealogist a share of the inheritance corresponding to the fees related to his investigation. The estate-disclosure contract is subject to the legislation on doorstep selling (Art. L.121-23 et seq of the Consumer Code). The contract includes a waiver option. You can seek reassurance from your notaire regarding the merits of such an approach.
You don’t have to pay anything. Our fees are deducted from the estate assets. Our Firm bears all the financial risks. In the event of a failure for any reason whatsoever, in the case of a closer heir’s intervention, of a will disinheriting the heir, or of debts larger than the asset, our Firm absorbs, at its expense, all disbursements made, regardless of their amount. We assume full liability for any insolvent estate, so that you never have to advance or pay anything.
The probate genealogist’s fees are set out in the estate-disclosure contract you were sent. They represent a percentage of the net share (i.e. after payment of any inheritance tax) or gross share (i.e. before payment of any inheritance tax) to which the heirs are entitled. This share varies according to your degree of kinship with the deceased.
If you have guessed the probable origin of the rights the genealogist offers to disclose to you, it is because you did not know the origin of these rights before the professional came to contact you. It is therefore necessary to legitimately remunerate the service rendered. Heirs often know the deceased but have lost sight of him. Some are even aware of his death but do not appear before the notaire because they are unaware of any rights they might assert. In all these cases, the genealogist has done them a favor.

After the investigation comes the revelation. When the last heir is found, we send a letter to the beneficiaries to reveal the origin of the estate.
We also send them a power of attorney, ensuring they can be represented throughout the process.

If the genealogist has offered you an estate-disclosure contract, it is because the estate provides a benefit: otherwise, the notaire would not even have commissioned him, since there would be no way to remunerate his services. Whatever happens, the contract protects you against any risk, including that of liabilities. Each year, our Firm takes out insurance that covers our various interventions. Thus, if an heir has been forgotten and his share must be repaid, if debts have not been taken into account, your protection is guaranteed. This is why the genealogist’s fees are proportional to the estate assets. The greater these are, the greater the risks the genealogist incurs.

The signing of the estate-disclosure contract does not commit you to accept the estate. Only once the name of the deceased has been revealed and the value of the estate has been estimated can you decide whether to accept or waive the inheritance, once you are in full possession of the facts. Acceptance only occurs when the inheritance declaration has been signed with the tax authorities.

The signing of the estate-disclosure contract simply commits you to pay the genealogist a percentage of the assets in the event of success. In exchange, the genealogist has the obligation to “disclose” your rights in the estate, to you: whom you are inheriting from and in what proportion. Should you eventually waive the inheritance, the estate-disclosure contract becomes null and void.

It is through the signing of a power of attorney that you give us the power to settle the estate on your behalf. Andriveau is committed to representing your best interests throughout the settlement of the estate. This is done at no cost to you.
In this fashion, the notaire will have only one person to deal with, the genealogist, commissioned to represent all the heirs. The latter are thus spared the follow-up of the settlement, such as expenses, travel, etc.
Thereafter, the file to which the genealogical chart is appended is sent to the notaire, to proceed with the settlement of the estate.

At the end of the settlement of the estate, we can send you, upon request, a copy of the complete genealogical chart. Contact information for family members does not appear on this table, for reasons of confidentiality.
We are bound by professional secrecy. However, at the end of the settlement, and if the other heirs have clearly indicated their agreement to this, we may provide you with their contact information.
The Archives Généalogiques Andriveau are the oldest firm in the world. In 1947, we became one of the founding members of the Chambre des Généalogistes successoraux de France ( (French Chamber of Probate Genealogist) which, with its nearly 30 firms, is the profession’s oldest representative body. We are also a member of Généalogistes de France (French Genealogists),the national representative organization of the genealogical profession. As such, our firm is a co-signatory of a Code of Conduct.
If you did not find the answer to your question, please contact us.


The settlement of an estate consists of a number of key steps:

  • The signing of the notarial deed
  • The inventory and sale of the furniture
  • The valuation of the property; the certificate of ownership and the sale of the property
  • The closing and collection of bank accounts, cash, securities, life insurance…
  • The payment of liabilities,
  • The drafting and signing of the inheritance declaration, and the payment of duties.
  • The preparation of the accounts after receipt of those funds collected from the notaire
  • The distribution of funds among the heirs, after obtaining their agreement

The goal is that you, as an heir, may take possession of the funds rightfully due to you as soon as possible.

It is the presentation to the tax authorities of the assets and liabilities statement as of the day of death. This may change until the succession is settled.
It is the deed that records the transfer of the deceased’s real-estate rights to his assigns. This deed allows the property to be sold.

It is a deed drawn up by the notaire that sets out the rights of each of the heirs. Notably, it contains: the complete identity of the deceased, the existence or not of last wishes (will, donation between spouses), the descendants, that is to say the complete identity of each heir, the filiation link and degree of kinship of each heir in relation to the deceased, and the share due to each. The signing of the notarial deed does not necessarily entail acceptance of the succession.

During the settlement of the estate, our lawyers represent you at every stage: property management, sales of real estate and securities, signing of deeds at the notaire, etc. This avoids your having to move.
As the firm is the representative of the heirs, it involves them in all the major steps of the settlement and in each important decision resulting from the process.

When our firm begins the search for heirs, the assets and liabilities are only partially known. The notaire will have received answers of the various financial organizations and will be able to proceed with the inventory and sale of the buildings after the signing of the notarial deed. This will allow you to obtain an accurate statement of the estate’s assets and liabilities.
The contract signed with the genealogist guarantees you against any risk related to the existence of an estate liability. If it turns out that the estate is insolvent, the genealogist alone will bear the consequences. You are not at risk.
The amount of inheritance tax varies according to your degree of relationship with the deceased and your share.
If neither you nor your co-heirs wish to keep them, real-estate assets are sold. We oversee all the steps: real-estate valuations, signature of the sales mandate (after agreement of the heirs on the sale price), acceptance of offers.
An inventory is drawn up by the notaire and an auctioneer to evaluate each object piece by piece, to assign it a price. Once the inventory has been completed, it is appended to the notarial deed. It is useful when the value of the furniture is less than 5% of the gross assets of the estate, in order to decrease the furnishings flat rate.
You are absolutely entitled to ask to attend the inventory of the deceased’s property in the presence of the notaire and auctioneer. Should you not wish to travel, your presence is not mandatory. The power of attorney you signed allows us to represent you. If you wish, a copy of the inventory, including the auctioneer’s valuation, will be sent to you.
Personal effects such as personal photographs or correspondence are not part of the estate assets. They are distributed among the heirs who request them.
As agents, we act in your name and stead to get insurance companies to unblock life insurance payments. We also see to the payment of any taxes. To this end, we send you a special authorization, to be returned to us once signed.
The time to complete the full settlement of an estate depends on the specific characteristics of each case. The duration depends, notably, on the complexity of a case: number of heirs, distance, underaged heir, protected adult, disagreement between heirs … Other factors may also come into play, such as how long it takes to sell a property or how quickly financial institutions respond.
The amount you receive from our firm is net of all costs and duties, All taxes are paid in advance by the notaire.
If you did not find the answer to your question, please contact us.