A family estate battle has erupted following the death of French rock star Johnny Hallyday, who died two months ago, with two of his four children claiming that they have seemingly been cut out of a will that may be worth as much as 100 million euros ($A156 million).
Lawyers for Hallyday’s actress daughter Laura Smet, 34, said she had launched a family estate battle to contest a will that appears to leave everything to his fourth wife Laeticia, 42, who mostly lives in Los Angeles.
The hard-living rocker, known as the French Elvis, died in December at the age of 74 after a battle with lung cancer. During his nearly 60-year career, he sold more than 100 million records, building up a valuable but dispersed estate.
In a statement issued by her lawyers, Smet said she was “stunned and pained” to discover she had been excluded from the inheritance.
“If this were to be, her father will have left her nothing: no material goods, no stake in his artistic legacy, no souvenir, no guitar, no motorbike – not even a signed cover from the song he dedicated to her,” the statement said.
The document, Smet’s lawyers said, seemingly runs counter to French law, which specifically protects children from being cut out of a will. Cutting children out of a will is a common cause of a family estate battle.
While the details of the document and the size of his estate have not been made public, the lawyers said it appeared to leave everything to Laeticia, who Hallyday married in 1996, when she was 21.
Hallyday, famed for a rock star lifestyle that involved a lot of hard drugs and whisky, spent much of his later years in Los Angeles, indulging his love of motorbikes and sports cars.
He was married five times, including twice to the same woman.
To add to the complications of his estate, Hallyday was never married to Smet’s mother, actress Nathalie Baye.
Hallyday married Laeticia Boudou in 1996. They adopted two girls born in Vietnam, the first in 2004 and the second in 2008, who in theory will be in line to inherit via their mother.
A Family Estate Battle in Queensland
In each of the states of Australia, the law casts an obligation upon a will maker to make adequate provision for certain persons. The definition of ‘certain persons’ differs from state to state. In Queensland, a will maker ought to make adequate provision for the following persons:
· Former spouse (in limited circumstances);
· A dependent (in limited circumstances).
It is at the discretion of the court as to whether or not family provision claims are successful. Not every applicant will be successful and not every applicant is eligible. The key is to seek advice from an expert in succession law.
The important thing to remember with family provision claims is that the test is not to establish what the deceased intended under the will. The court must simply decide whether or not provision ought to be made to the applicant based on a number of things:
- Whether any provision you have already received is adequate for your proper maintenance, education and advancement in life.
- Competing claims of other eligible persons or beneficiaries. You may not be the only person who was cut out of the will.
- The nature and duration of your relationship with the person who has passed away.
- Your financial resources and earning capacity.
- The size of the estate. For example, you may pass all the criteria to make a successful family provision claim, but if there is only $20,000.00 in the estate, then there is very little scope for a Court to order provision.
- The financial circumstances of people you cohabit with, such as your spouse or de facto.
- Contributions you made, both financial and non-financial, to the person who has passed away.
- Any provision the deceased person made for you during their lifetime.
The area of law surrounding family provision claims is complex. Advice should always be sought urgently as there are tight time frames. In Queensland, you only have 9 months from the date of death and notification must be made within 6 months from date of death.
Estate Planning Options for Blended Families
One good option is to utilise a testamentary discretionary trust, so that you have better control over how your assets will be divided. A testamentary discretionary trust is a type of trust created under a will, comes into existence only upon the administration of the deceased estate
Choose a beneficiary you trust to financially provide for your spouse and your children. A testamentary trust will protect your assets for your children from your first relationship. It’s tempting to assume that your new spouse will ‘do the right thing’, but we have seen this assumption proven wrong countless times.
You may create two testamentary trusts, one for your children and the other for your partner’s children. This is beneficial if both of you were to pass away at the same time, in a car accident, for example. You could also choose to divide the entirety of your estate between your children, your partner and his/her children. Or you may wish to exclude your step children. If you were to have children in your new marriage or partnership, you could also include them in your will.
There’s no doubt that having a blended family complicates your estate planning. We commonly see blended families fighting a family estate battle in court, but this can be avoided with specialist legal advice.
Contact us today for your FREE, 10-minute phone consultation.