People readily post about their lives on social media, including where they travel to or where they eat (sometimes on a daily basis). Celebrities, for example, use social media platforms (such as Instagram and Twitter) to connect with their fans and keep them posted of the fabulous lives of the rich and famous. But, social media doesn’t stop at just connecting people. More and more, we see social media posts used as evidence in court (for example, in family law proceedings).
I previously blogged about the litigation in the estate of Johnny Hallyday, a celebrated French rock and roll singer and actor (also known as “the French Elvis”). Last week, a French court reviewed Johnny’s Instagram posts (which are open to the public) to determine his residency for the purposes of his estate’s distribution.
Johnny was born and lived most of his life in France. He also had assets in France. Johnny was married five times (twice to the same woman). His last marriage to Laeticia Boudu was his longest, lasting 21 years. Johnny is survived by Laeticia and his four children: 2 biological adult children from previous marriages (Laura and David) and 2 adopted minor children with Laeticia.
In 2014, Johnny executed a will in California, where he had real property and was domiciled for tax purposes. In that will, he left his entire estate to Laeticia and their two adopted daughters, leaving out David and Laura. In France, however, forced heirship laws make it virtually impossible to disinherit children.
Johnny died in December 2017. Laura and David are now contesting the validity of their father’s will, sparking a bitter family feud over an estate worth an estimated €100 million ($150 million). Given that Johnny spent time in both France and the US, a question arose as to whether French or US law applies to the distribution of Johnny’s estate.
While Laura and David argued that French law governs the distribution of Johnny’s estate, Laeticia argued that Johnny was resident in California prior to his death such that US law governs his estate. Specifically, Laeticia submitted that her and Johnny (with their two daughters) settled in Los Angeles in 2007, their daughters went to school there, and that Johnny received a green card in 2014.
Meanwhile, David (Johnny’s son) provided the court with a chart of Johnny and Laeticia’s locations from 2012 to 2017 as revealed by pictures from the couple’s public Instagram accounts. David’s chart showed that Johnny “spent at least 151 days in France in 2015 and 168 the year after. He then spent eight months without interruption in the country, mainly because of his illness, before his death in 2017.”
Based on David’s compelling chart, a court in France ruled that French law governs Johnny’s estate as Johnny lived primarily in France or French territory (e.g. St. Barts) prior to his death.
Laeticia plans to appeal this decision.
The lesson? Think twice before posting that vacation picture on Instagram – it could impact your estate planning.