New York Times op-ed: Should You Be Able to Disinherit Your Child?, by Pamela Druckerman:
At lunchtime in France on Tuesday, all eyes were on a regional court near Paris that was set to rule on Johnny Hallyday, the iconic rock ’n’ roll singer who died in 2017.
The court was merely announcing whether it had jurisdiction over Mr. Hallyday’s estate or whether the case should be heard in California, where Mr. Hallyday lived during many of his final years. But at stake was a question that divides French and American law: Should you be allowed to disinherit your own kids?
In most of the United States, you can. Mr. Hallyday opted for the American approach: His Californian will names his fourth wife and widow, Laeticia Hallyday, as his sole heir. The couple’s two adopted daughters would presumably share in the bounty, which is estimated in the tens of millions, plus future royalties. But Mr. Hallyday’s two older children, from previous wives, would inherit nothing.
Under French law, such an arrangement is impossible. A large part of a parent’s estate — starting at 50 percent if there’s one child and reaching 75 percent for three or more — must be divided equally among the children. This includes “illegitimate” heirs and those from prior marriages, known collectively as “children from another bed.”(Louisiana, part of a former French colony, has a similar rule known as “forced heirship.”)
Mr. Hallyday’s older children want French law to prevail. They filed a court case to claim jurisdiction in Nanterre, near where their father died. Technically, they had to prove that the singer’s principal residence was in France. But the case became a referendum on Johnny Hallyday’s essence: Was he more American or more French? ...
Mr. Hallyday has prompted a new debate about disinheriting children. The French idea of forcibly breaking up estates originated after the French Revolution, among reformers who wanted to weaken the aristocracy and make sure that no single heir became too rich. That principle is now taken so much for granted that many French people were shocked to learn that Americans can simply cut some children off.
“We found this very violent, as if their very existence was being denied,” explained Ms. Pieau, who’s also editor of the French celebrity magazine Closer. The rock star Eddy Mitchell, Mr. Hallyday’s longtime friend, said, “In the U.S., you have the right to disinherit your children in favor of your cat or your dog, but we are not Americans.”