Article written by David Maxwell

Private Client Senior Associate Lawyer

The recent case concerning the late Johnny Hallyday’s Will highlights the complexity of dealing with cross-border estates and the need for good legal advice to help avoid the kind of problems which have befallen the estate of “the French Elvis”.

Incorporating a 21st century twist, the French court recently accepted Instagram posts as evidence to support a challenge by two of Hallyday’s adult children to  his Will which left the entire estate, a reported 100m euros, to his latest wife, Laeticia, 44.

Halliday spent much of his time in California, partly to avoid French taxes, and his Will was prepared there, but he also continued to spend a significant amount of time in France so the question arises, which country’s legal system governs the distribution of his estate?

The reason this is particularly relevant in this case is that, in common with many European countries, France has a system of “forced heirship” which requires that parents leave a fixed share of their estate to their children.

The two children’s argument was that their late father was “habitually resident” in France and, therefore, French law and hence forced heirship apply to his estate. The Instagram records showed that he spent 168 days in France in 2014 and 151 days in 2015 which the Court held was enough to satisfy the habitual  residence test.

Conficts of laws involving cross-border estates are nothing new but for individuals with connections to one or more countries in the EU, matters are somewhat simplified by  a recent piece of European regulation known as “Brussels IV” which states that the law of the country of habitual residence will usually take precedence but goes on to say that the testator has an option to apply the law of any state whose nationality they possess. Importantly, however, you cannot nominate which country’s tax laws  will apply.

The story is not yet over though as the widow has stated publicly that she will appeal…..

If you have a cross-border estate issue that you require advice on please contact David Maxwell on [email protected] or Glen Bayliss on [email protected] or by telephone on 020 7408 8888.