Yesterday Walt and I went to town for an appointment with the local notaire. In France, a notaire is a contracts lawyer who is licensed and appointed by the government to deal with "legal instruments" like last wills and testaments, deeds, and marriage contracts.
This Wikipedia article explains how the the notarial function in France and other Roman-law countries differs from the function of a "notary public" in common-law countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, including this introduction:
Civil-law notaries, or Latin notaries, are lawyers of noncontentious private civil law who draft, take, and record legal instruments for private parties, provide legal advice and give attendance in person, and are vested as public officers with the authentication power of the State.
Unlike notaries public, their common-law counterparts, civil-law notaries are highly trained, licensed practitioners providing a full range of regulated legal services, and whereas they hold a public office, they nonetheless operate usually—but not always—in private practice and are paid on a fee-for-service basis.
[Civil-law notaries] often receive the same education as attorneys at civil law but without qualifications in advocacy, procedural law, or the law of evidence, somewhat comparable to solicitor training in certain common-law countries.
The purpose of Walt's and my visit to the notarial office was to find out how to go about drafting a legally binding testament in France. It turns out to be very simple in our case, because each of us wants to designate the other as his sole heir (or légataire universel).
It turns out to be a very simple process. We each have to write out our last will and testament by hand following this template or modèle that the notaire gave us:
Je soussigné, Monsieur [prenoms NOM, profession] marié à [lieu] le [date], demeurant à [adresse], né à [lieu de naissance] le [date]
Révoque toutes dispositions testamentaires antérieures,
Et institue pour mon légataire universel Monsieur [prenoms NOM], demeurant à [adresse], né à [lieu de naissance] le [date].
En cas de prédécès de ce dernier, l'ensemble de mes biens reviendra à [prenoms NOM], demeurant à [adresse], né à [lieu de naissance] le [date].
Fait à [ville]
After we have written out and signed the two testaments, we just put them in envelopes and include a check for 30 euros with each. That fee covers the registration of the wills in a French national registry and their storage in the notarial office's safe until they are needed. (I thought it was going to cost more than that.)
I had also thought that what we would need to do was sign a donation au dernier vivant (a.k.a. une donation entre époux) but the notary assured us that the testament was the best solution in our case, because neither of us has any children.