Dealing with the death of a friend or relative in France can be traumatic and distressing and practical arrangements that need to be made may be very different to those back home.
Your country’s Embassy in France will be able to help you to understand the procedures and arrangements that need to be made and different steps that need to be taken according to the circumstances.
Death in hospital in France
The Doctor who has been treating the person will almost always be the person to sign the certificate medical (medical certificate) which states that a death by natural causes has occurred. If the death is a result of suspicious circumstances or violence the doctor will report it to the police. The deceased will be laid to rest in the hospital mortuary until further arrangements are made. The Doctor may also notify the local Town Hall.
Death at home in France
You should contact your local doctor who will sign the certificate medical which certifies the death. Either you or the doctor may contact the undertakers (Pompes Funèbres in France) who will collect the deceased and take them to a mortuary – either their own or if necessary the hospital mortuary. It is not uncommon in France for the deceased to remain at home until burial or cremation and for members of the family and friends to visit to pay their respects.
Death in a public place or under suspicious circumstances in France
In such circumstances you must contact the police at the earliest opportunity. An inquiry is held when the death occurs in a public place such as the street or hotel or when foul play is suspected. In such cases the responsibility for issuing the medical certificate and burial permit lies with the Public Prosecutor (Procureur de la République) at the local high court (Tribunal de grande instance) and the body will be taken to a special mortuary for post-mortem.
Registering a death in France
You will need to make an official declaration of death (déclaration de décès) at the local mairie (Town Hall) within 24 hours of the death. You can appoint someone to do this or a relative may take responsibility.
Whoever visits the mairie will need to have proof of identity, the certificate medical (medical certificate issued by the doctor) and proof of the identity of the deceased such as birth certificate, passport, ID card or livret de famille (Family Book).
The death certificate (acte de décès) is usually issued without delay and provides information on where and when death took place but does not indicate the cause of death.
There is no fee for the medical certificate issued by the doctor or for registering the death.
Once a death is registered, the mairie will issue a burial permit (permis d’inhumer) indicating the time and date of death.
You will need to contact the insurance company of the deceased. If they were not insured, the family will need to meet the funeral and/or repatriation costs.
Cremation in France
Cremations in France need to be authorised by the local Mayor (Maire) and the family may request the cremation take place elsewhere.
After cremation, the ashes are placed in an urn or scattered in a jardin de souvenirs (garden of remembrance). It is legal to scatter ashes on private land but not in rivers or on paths and guidance should be sought from the Town Hall for permission to scatter and to have the event recorded.
Burial in France
A burial can be organised by the immediate family of the deceased or the funeral parlour (Pompes Funèbres) and is authorised by the Mayor of the commune and must take place from 24 hours to six days (excluding Sundays and public holidays) following the death. The departmental Prefect may issue a waiver if there is a problem meeting the burial deadline. A burial may be organised by a funeral parlour or the immediate family of the deceased.
As concessions for plots vary from commune to commune it is best to check with your local Town Hall for details.
Repatriation of a foreigner
If the body needs to be repatriated from France to another country, we advise you to contact the local consulate of that country for guidance and assistance.