Two Children, Two Countries, One Will

What about a probate case where the deceased was a French citizen living in the United States for tax reasons who left a California will bequeathing his French property to his fourth wife? Now add this – that will disinherited his two children from his first wife, a violation of French law, and the estate is valued at around $100 million.

This is the estate, and current open probate case, of Johnny Hallyday, the ‘Elvis Presley of France.’ Unless you’re French, you can be excused for never having heard of him. He sold very few albums outside of France. Inside France, he sold 110 million records, was seen live by an estimated 28 million fans, went gold 40 times and platinum 22 times.

When he died of lung cancer in December at age 76, President Marcon called him a national hero, hundreds of thousands attended his funeral parade route, it was a national day of mourning.

He was an idol. When the terms of his will were revealed to the people of France, the country exploded. He left everything to his fourth wife, who was 21 when he married her twenty-one years ago. Everything here means everything, all property and all the rights to his music, still popular today and still earning money. He gave nothing to his two children.

Okay, you say, we’ve written about this very scenario before, several times in fact. True, here’s the difference – in France it is against the law to disinherit a child. It has been the law since 1789, it was one of the first laws passed after the overthrow of Louis XVI. It is a treasured piece of law and Hallyday’s failure to follow it create a minor stir. Minor, at first, because it is custom, and expected, that in a situation like this a wife will direct a good sized portion of the inheritance to the children.

The widow, in this case, has said she is not going to do that. The children are going to fight. The question is where and how.

The will is being probated in California, where it was drawn up in 2014. The will is fine under U.S. law, Hallyday also included a letter (witnessed) with the will explaining why he disinherited his children. However, he was a French citizen, almost all of the estate is in France, the will violates – ostentatiously – French law.

It will be fascinating to watch how this unfolds.