If I say I’ve moved to California and make a new Will there, who’s going to argue?

February 8th, 2021  |  Estate Planning

Johnny Hallyday’s Story  

Johnny Hallyday might be the biggest pop star you’ve never heard of. Over the course of a long career based in France, he sold more than 110 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling singers of all time. He was credited with bringing rock and roll to France and was called the French Elvis.

However, starting in 2007, Johnny and his fourth wife began spending a lot of time in California, and he even got a US Green Card in 2014.

When Johnny died in 2017, his estate included his rights to over 1000 songs as well as properties in France, the Caribbean and California.

Johnny left a will made in California, which left everything to his fourth wife and nothing to his two adult children who lived in France. While disinheriting adult children is acceptable in California, the laws of France oblige parents to leave a portion of their estate to each of their children. So, the issue was whether Johnny lived in California, in which case his California will took full effect, or whether he lived in France, in which case the French children had a valid claim against his estate.

Unfortunately for Johnny, he had opened an Instagram account in 2012, and from that time he regularly posted photos on the social media site. Whether he knew it or not, his photos included tags indicating where they were taken.  His French children got busy cataloguing his posts and produced a chart displaying their father’s whereabouts from 2012 to 2017 according to his Instagram photos. On the basis of the Instagram evidence, the French court was satisfied that he was a resident of France, and the French children won their inheritance.

Lawyer’s comment: Moving to a new jurisdiction is one of the “changes of circumstances” that mean you should review your will. And if you want to claim you are a resident of California, don’t leave a trail of photos online that prove you spent more time in France. Posts on social media are increasingly being used as evidence in all kinds of cases.