Roche & Cie

Can we really disinherit children like the French icon Johnny Halliday did?

27 Feb 2018

The French law provides that the children of the deceased person are protected by what is called the hereditary reserve. Children are assured to receive a fraction of their parent’s inheritance, the proportion of which varies according to the number of children of the deceased person. If the deceased person has two children, the hereditary reserve is two-thirds of the patrimony. This means that the deceased person can dispose of a third of his wealth as he wishes and can assign it to the person of his choice. He can donate it to an association, to his wife, to a mistress …

All children are placed on the same equal footing, regardless of the nature of parentage. So, regardless of the case of stepfamilies, the children of a “first bed” are treated on the same level as children of the “second bed“.

If this minimum quota is not respected, the injured heirs may act to restore the share of the reserve which is legally due to them.


Do donations help to avoid this reservation?

If previous donations have been made, they are “reincorporated”. We will simply add them to the deceased’s patrimony on the day of his death to determine the amount of this hereditary reserve.

For example, imagine the case of a father of two children who gives his mistress house worth 800,000 euros and who dies a few years later then having a net worth of 100,000 euros. The calculation of the reserve will be on 100,000 euros (net assets of the deceased person on the day of the death) + 800,000 euros (value of the house given on the day of the death – considering that its value has not changed) = 900,000 euros. The reserve is therefore 2/3, or 600,000 euros. If the present property at the day of death is not sufficient to fill the children of their reserve, the mistress must therefore compensate them to keep the given house


How could Johnny Hallyday disinherit his children?

Johnny Hallyday, the French rock icon, has by will appointed his wife Laetitia as heiress of all his property. The internationalization of heritages and families has complicated the situation. Since August 17, 2015 and following the ratification of European Regulation No. 650/2012, the property of the deceased person is subject to the law of the deceased’s usual place of residence at the time of death.

It is also possible to choose during one’s lifetime to apply to one’s estate the law of one’s nationality.

The succession of the singer thus depends on the Californian law. The principle of the hereditary reserve does not exist in California. It is possible there to dispose of all his property and thus disinherit the children.

On the succession of Maurice Jarre (another French iconic case), father of Jean-Michel Jarre whose facts are almost identical, the Court of Cassation has already had the opportunity to clarify that the principle of the hereditary reserve was not an essential principle French law protected by international public order, so that it would not be necessary to exclude foreign law if it did not know it. Except, said the Court, to demonstrate a situation of economic precariousness or need of heirs …. Which may be difficult for Laura and David.

Cabinet Roche & Cie, English speaking accountant in Lyon, France.
Specialist in Real-Estate and Non-resident taxation.