The Johnny Hallyday case proves to be another example of a complex family dispute on death, writes Jessica Zimmerman
“Pardon”, needing no translation I hope, was one of French rocker Johnny Hallyday’s titles making up his extensive back catalogue. He was known as the French Elvis and his death a few months ago was strongly felt not only by the French nation, but by many around the world. Full disclosure from the author, who is not particularly familiar with the work of the late Mr Hallyday, but it does not seem that his song “Pardon” was one of his best-sellers or most well-known. However, fears are that it might be the most apt or most used title over the coming months and years, for relationships between the extended Hallyday family are somewhat fractious.
This Spear’s blog recently reported on the Lady Lucan case and explained the (limited) rights, under English law, of children and other family members who have been disinherited. The Johnny Hallyday case is another example of family dispute on death as we understand that the French icon left his entire estate to his fourth wife and their children, leaving his children from previous marriages with nothing.
Not only does the wading in of Bridget Bardot and Gérard Depardieu make this case fascinating in the sort of celebrity gossip voyeurism to which we are now all accustomed, but this cause célèbre throws up additional interesting estate planning conundrums because of the international element.
Mr Hallyday made his last Will under the laws of California, where he spent much of his later years. Under Californian law, much like English law, the testator has testamentary freedom to leave whatever he wants to whomever he wants. Compare that with the Napoleonic forced heirship regime in France, and indeed many civil law jurisdictions, whereby the law dictates that spouse and children must inherit in a certain way, and you can see why Mr Hallyday would choose to make his Will under the laws of California if he truly wanted his wife and children from that marriage to benefit from his entire estate.
Two of Mr Hallyday’s other adult children have announced that they intend to contest the Will on the basis that the forced heirship provisions under French law should apply and that their father ought not to have been able to “use” California law to disinherit them. The cross-border elements are extremely complicated and it is not known whether the French courts will recognise the Californian Will.
The French courts are likely to be very keen to ensure that any French immovable assets, i.e. real estate, devolve in accordance with French law, thus awarding certain shares to the disinherited children. These are issues that affect many individuals, rock stars or not, because of our increased international lifestyles. This can make the job of the Will drafter rather difficult and quite often it is necessary to have more than one Will or at least check that the Will complies with other legal regimes, not to mention Brussels IV (a.k.a. the European Succession Regulalation). We encourage anyone in these circumstances to pay careful attention and take a holistic approach to estate planning exercises.
Jessica Zimmerman is a senior associate at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP