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The inheritance dispute between the heirs of Johnny Hallyday took a dramatic turn in the French court of Nanterre this week.  A much awaited ruling was published on Tuesday 28th May.

Click here to read our previous article on the commencement of proceedings in 2018

The Nanterre court declared this week that it does have jurisdictional competence to hear the dispute. The court ruled that Hallyday was indeed “habitually resident” in France at the time of his death, as claimed by his eldest two children Laura and David who had been excluded from his US will. He was deemed still to have his habitual residence in France despite his “itinerant and bohemian lifestyle”, the number of visits he made to the US, his property held there and his family life there before his death. The court noted that Hallyday had performed concerts in major venues in France until the end of his life attended by a “reverent French public and French-speaking audience.” His son David had submitted evidence via his father’s Instagram account that the singer had spent 151 days in France in 2015 and 168 days in 2016. The fact that Hallyday was undeniably a French icon was given substantial weight by the court in finding he was habitually resident in France at the time of his death. This contrasts with previous judgements of the French Supreme Court such as the succession of Maurice Jarre who had actually been resident in the US for many decades. 

This interpretation of the EU Succession Regulation no. 650/2012 (which has been in force since August 2015) and its habitual residence test means that French law is deemed to apply to the worldwide assets of the late singer. This means that because of the French civil code forced heirship rules the “reserved share” of 18.75% in his estate is due to each of  his children.

The general rule which prevails in cross-border succession disputes, where the deceased is a national of an EU member state, or leaves assets situated in a EU member state is set out in Article 21 of the Regulation:

“the law applicable to the succession as a whole shall be the law of the State in which the deceased had his habitual residence at the time of death.”

Hallyday’s widow was left shocked by the decision and her lawyers immediately stated that she would appeal against the ruling. She had claimed in her pleadings that only the US court was competent, and that common law rules should apply which allowed Hallyday freedom of disposition to exclude family members from his 2014 English style will, and that only her and their two younger adopted children should  benefit from his estate. The late singer had declared himself in that will to be a resident of Los Angeles. However, he had made another will declaring himself to be a resident of Switzerland. Clearly the test of habitual residence should depend on the objective facts and not be a matter for the testator to declare, nor will it necessarily coincide with the residence a person has elected to be a taxpayer.