Probate and Will, Trust & Estate Disputes

Publish date

11 June 2023

Domicile – does a picture say a thousand words?

Johnny Hallyday died in 2017, which caused an ongoing dispute between his widow and two children from a previous relationship. Johnny had spent much of his time in Los Angeles, having once said that he would never return to France unless their tax laws changed, following the introduction of 75% tax on income over €1million in 2014. Johnny obtained a green card establishing permanent residence in the United States many years before his death

Under the terms of his Will, Johnny left his entire estate to his wife, Laeticia and disinherited his two children from a previous relationship. His estate, estimated to be worth in the region of £89million, was due to pass to Laeticia. However, his two children from a previous relationship, Laura and David, brought a claim against his estate to argue that their father was domiciled in France at the date of his death. French law stipulates that parents cannot disinherit their children which means that Laura and David would be set to receive a share of their late father’s estate.

A twist

In a twist, the French courts took into account Johnny’s Instagram posts which showed a timeline of his movements before his death. Laura and David argued that the 151 days he spent in France in 2015 and the eight months leading up to his death, whilst he was being treated for cancer, was enough to conclude that his domicile was in France. The French Court agreed with their timeline of events, ruling that Johnny’s estate should pass in accordance with the rules on French succession. This means that Johnny’s two children are set to inherit from his estate, despite his Will saying otherwise. In addition, Inheritance Tax would be paid in France.

Following the ruling, Laeticia confirmed that she would appeal the decision.   Things have gone very quiet since then, so we can only assume that the family reached a settlement of the claims, and that the French authorities have claimed the tax due.

The question of domicile is important when deciding which law (and taxes) apply to your estate after your death. In a world where social media is becoming more prevalent, it is perhaps not surprising that accounts such as Instagram are now being used to provide evidence as to someone’s true movements in the months and years leading up to their death.

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