Social Media Posts Used as Proof of Residence in Estate Litigation

A smartphone showing various social media apps including Instagram

Social media is changing the way many of us live our lives, seeping into the way businesses operate and affecting how we communicate. It shouldn’t be surprising to discover that social media is also playing an increasingly prevalent role in the courts, particularly when presented as evidence in family or estate cases. A great example of this was recently reported in the New York Times when the children of a deceased pop star used Instagram to win an inheritance battle in a French court.

Two Wills

The deceased in the issue was French pop star Johnny Hallyday who performed for sixty years and became known as the “French Elvis.” He started using Instagram in 2012 to share personal and professional photos to promote his career.

Hallyday died in 2017. Upon his death, two Wills were found in a safe deposit box. One of them, written in California, appointed his fourth wife (“the wife”) as the sole heir and manager of his estate. This Will excluded Hallyday’s two children from a previous relationship (“L” and “D”). The New York Times reported that it is illegal under French law for him to have excluded L and D from his will. However, excluding L and D would have been permitted under California law.

Where Did the Testator Live?

Hallyday’s children, L and D, worked to prove that their father was not actually a resident of California and instead lived in France. The wife’s position was that he lived in California and that the California Will was valid.

The wife’s evidence was that Hallyday moved to Los Angeles in 2007. He had two other daughters who went to school there. Hallyday also received a green card in 2014. She claimed that her husband’s love of Elvis Presley and American culture was what brought him to the United States.

However, L and D were able to present compelling evidence to the courts. They showed the court a chart displaying the locations of Hallyday and his wife from 2012 to 2017 as indicated in their Instagram photos, which can show a location. These charts showed that Hallyday spent at least 151 days in France in 2015 and 168 in 2016. He spent most of 2017 in France as well, though largely because he was ill and eventually died there.

The court ruled in favour of L and D, though Hallyday’s wife plans on appealing the ruling. The court stated it decided to use the Instagram information the same way it would other publicly available data, which is an excellent reminder of how the courts have generally been treating social media evidence.

At Eisen Law, our lawyers focus exclusively on estate and trust litigation. We provide our clients with clear guidance on their issues and help them make fully informed decisions with the aim of reaching a resolution to even the most complex estate and trust disputes. Please call us at 416-591-9997 or reach us online to see how we can help you today.