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Usufruit is the right to hold the assets in the inheritance and to collect and use the dividends, interest, rent … It does not give a right to sell the assets of the estate. 

When you have bought a house with your spouse, half of the house is yours and, upon your death, your half falls in your estate. Your spouse inherits usufruit of your half house and the children inherit the bare ownership. Ownership over his/her half the house and usufruit over your half allows your spouse to live in the house, or you to let it out to move into smaller accommodation.

Usufruit on a house gives you the enjoyment and the use of the property, but you also have to pay for all the expenses related to the property (the annual real estate tax, maintenance and repairs, refurbishment, etc ...). However, you do not have sole responsibility to pay for major repairs to the main structure of the building (walls, roof, ...).

For shares and bonds, usufruit is the right to collect and use the dividends of shares or the interest of bonds. The shares or bonds are usually put in one bank account in the name of the bare owners (the children) and the dividends and interest are paid into an account in the name of the surviving spouse.

The inconvenience of usufruit is that you do not own house or the investments and that you do not have the right to sell the house or the investments … without the agreement of the bare owner(s).  And for a savings account, you can collect the interest paid, but you cannot touch the capital.

 

In common law, a life interest trust would be the closest thing to usufruit.