French inheritance law is right, Johnny case shows

Opinion: French rocker Johnny Hallyday's decision to try to bypass French law to disinherit his children was a bad idea, says Samantha David – there are good reasons for the French réserve héreditaire rules

26 November 2019
Johnny Hallyday chose to leave his money to his last wife Laeticia and their adopted children
By Samantha David

I've been keeping a lazy eye on the Hallyday case - do you remember that one? Yes, when France's favourite rocker Johnny Hallyday died, in 2017, he left his entire fortune,  said to be worth €100 million, to his fourth and final wife Laeticia.

So far, so good - but his children from earlier relationships, Laura Smet and David Hallyday, launched a court case to dispute the will.

In one way I'm not surprised. I guess anyone in with a chance to get a slice of €100 million would at least have a go.

But in another I'm surprised that Hallyday made a decision so far outside French law. Everyone in the Hexagon knows that you can't disinherit your kids, however much you love the new ones you've adopted with your gorgeous young wife. It was quite an extraordinary thing to do.

French law is clear, and I think that French law is correct – family is important, blood is thicker than water.

Parents have a lifelong duty towards the children they brought into the world; children have a duty to care for their parents.

Otherwise we're just all lost kids, wandering around on our own trying to get likes on Facebook. We need the law to recognise family and support its structures.

But what about unloving or careless offspring? What about abusive parents? What about dysfunctional, toxic family set-ups? Why should people be legally forced to leave their property to neglectful, unloving children?

I see this point, but the root of the problem isn't the inheritance law; it's the failure to solve major family problems. And leaving a fortune to the cats' home isn't going to help heal wounds and bring families closer together.

Nor is the style of will which rewards one sibling over another, or tots up good deeds to be rewarded when the will is read: "Susan came over with soup when I was ill, so she gets the silver candlesticks, Sasha refused to lend me her copy of The Connexion so I'm not leaving her the silver teapot after all..."

No, I think the French approach is best. Knowing from the start who inherits and exactly how much is a good thing.

It takes the uncertainty and the sting out of inheritance matters, leaving people to mourn for the person they've lost rather than just the money they might have had.

As for the Hallyday offspring, the international courts have accepted that it's a matter for French law, the estate is rumoured to be grossly indebted (probably only worth a measly 30 million euros, after all) and Laeticia has held out an olive branch to her step-children.

I don't know them, and my opinion cannot matter a jot to them one way or another, but I hope they can find common ground when it comes to sharing out Johnny Hallyday's fortune, so that they can get on with coming to terms with his death, rather than arguing about the silver.

That's the French way, and it's right.

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France

Get news, views and information from France