Don’t solicitors have the resources to find heirs themselves?

The most simple inheritance cases tend to be those where a deceased person has children. This is called an inheritance of direct relation. But even for this type of inheritance, solicitors cannot always handle the requirements of the case alone. Civil status information has a highly individual nature and does not display a person’s descendants, in the same way that family records do not indicate the address of any children mentioned therein.

With significant increases in the number of splintered families and children born out of wedlock (over 55% of births), difficulties in settling direct relations are becoming increasingly common. Our involvement is often crucial when searching for more distant relations (nephews or nieces, cousins…). This is the reason why solicitors turn to us to establish a list of heirs and to locate these heirs.

Is it difficult to locate an individual in France?

France is known as “paradise for debtors” by Belgian bailiffs as it is especially difficult to locate addresses in France. There is no obligation to declare a change of address to the authorities, contrary to legislation in many European countries (Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, etc).

Furthermore, the individual freedom of citizens is protected in France. French legislation (act of 6th January 1978 on information technology, files and freedom) states that data files cannot be used for any other purpose except that for which they were created. There are countless personal data records held in France, such as medical insurance data, pension funds, electoral roll lists and police records, but none of these can be used to find an heir, even when it is in their own interests.

What is the role of the family tracing service?

The family tracing service is organised at departmental level and is controlled by police headquarters. In reality, it is basically a question of registering a person to be traced on a national record, in the event that the person may be picked up by a police or gendarmerie department.

This service can only be requested provided the full civil status of the person to be traced is known, and where the person requesting the service can provide evidence for close relational links or connections with the person. The service is often requested by a court judge, who will seek a certificate of unsuccessful investigation before being able to return a judgement of presumption of absence.

What is the difference between presumption and declaration of absence?

Presumption of absence is declared by a court judge. It is a temporary measure aimed at protecting the estate of a person presumed absent, but where there is a possibility they may return.

Declaration of absence is equivalent to a death certificate. It can be declared by the district court ten years after a judgement of presumption of absence, and after the publication of missing person advertisements in newspapers.