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Jarre-ing Hallyday

Jarre-ing Hallyday

Most French people would be surprised to learn that Johnny Hallyday, the most famous French rock’n’roll star in his country, is virtually unknown outside France. His recent state funerals may have been briefly mentioned in international news but what may really put him on the world map is the legal battle about to commence in relation to his Will.

Most French people would be surprised to learn that Johnny Hallyday, the most famous French rock’n’roll star in his country, is virtually unknown outside France. His recent state funerals may have been briefly mentioned in international news but what may really put him on the world map is the legal battle about to commence in relation to his Will.

The question asked by Johnny’s children, Laura Smet and David Hallyday, was virtually unthinkable for over 200 years: Can children in France be disinherited? 

Before his death, Johnny organised his succession under Californian law where he moved in the Noughties leaving his entire estate in trust to his wife, Laeticia. Laura and David, children of the late rock star from previous relationships, intend to challenge this Will. In effect, under French law, children must receive a share (called réserve) of their parents’ estate. 

When I first read that Laura and David would challenge the Father’s Will, it immediately reminded me that this question had already been clearly answered a few months before. In effect, the Cour de Cassation[1] confirmed on 27th September 2017 in two separate but almost identical cases that children in France could be disinherited under Californian law. These decisions also related to two famous French musicians, Maurice Jarre, best known for his film music such as Lawrence of Arabia or Ghost, and Michel Colombier, also composer of scores for motion pictures including Purple Rain and Largo Winch.

Both Maurice Jarre and Michel Colombier resided in California before their death and their respective estates were subject to Californian law. As a result, a trust was created to solely benefit the surviving spouse and excluding any rights for children. In Maurice Jarre’s case, one of the disinherited children was his son Jean-Michel Jarre, one of the pioneers of electronic music. 

So why could these long-standing Napoleonian principles be set aside?

The French Court first confirmed that the musicians had been residing in California for a long time and built a life there. Maurice Jarre moved to California in 1965 and got married there subsequently. Michel Colombier had lived in California for nearly 30 years where his last three children were born and most of his assets were situated in the USA. 

In addition, the Judge pointed out that the children claiming a share of the estate were not in a state of “financial precariousness or in need”. 

In Johnny Hallyday’s case, there is no doubt that Laura and David will defend that their Father was not a long-standing and established resident of California (after all, he spent the last months of his life being treated in France and died there and his resting place is in St Barthelemy, an overseas territory of France).

Considering that the procedure for the Jarre estate took 8 years and 13 years for the Colombier estate, it is very probable that Laura Smet and David Hallyday have embarked for a decade-long battle.

The situations mentioned above are not limited to very wealthy musicians and the question of habitual residence in accordance with EU Regulation 650/2012 will affect any cross-border probate involving an EU member state. This is why UK residents who have assets in France and/or have any intention to move to France need to take legal advice in order to ensure that they understand the inheritance rules likely to apply to them and put in place estate planning measures accordingly.