On December 2, 2020, we blogged on Germany’s recent decision to expand pension payments to spouses of Holocaust survivors who are now deceased. Under the amended criteria, spouses are entitled to this payment for up to nine months. Prior to this decision, pension payments expired upon the survivor’s death.
Deeply intrigued by this dark period in our relatively recent history and the effects it continues to have on the heirs and estates of survivors in our modern world, we have again chosen to focus our blog on Holocaust reparations – this time from the French government.
In 2014, France agreed to pay reparations, in the amount of $60 million to certain qualifying Holocaust survivors, their heirs and their estates (known as the “The 2014 Agreement”). This Agreement was proposed in response to a lawsuit initiated by non-French survivors who had been deported to death camps from France via S.N.C.F., which was a state-owned railway system. Survivors argued that S.N.C.F. was complicit with the Nazis’ premeditated murders during World War 2. France ultimately agreed to pay survivors who had been transported to concentration camps via S.N.C.F. reparations in exchange for recipients agreeing to renounce their right to sue.
The 2014 Agreement sought to distribute reparations to victims who had been largely ignored under prior agreements and settlements.
Former Ambassador and the State Department’s expert advisor on Holocaust issues, Stuart Eizenstat, assisted in negotiating this Agreement. As a result of the Agreement, forty-nine survivors received approximately $400,000 in reparations. Thirty-two spouses of survivors who had already passed on received up to $100,000 under this Agreement. Heirs and estates of deportees were also eligible for payment.
Holocaust survivors constitute a unique population of individuals who were robbed of the opportunity to inherit wealth. Though reparations cannot make up for the suffering of the past, they represent a recognition of fault and soothe, for some, the pain of loss.
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Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph
A recent decision dealing with the estate of a French rock star highlights the potential relevance of social media evidence in estates matters.
Johnny Halliday, known as the “French Elvis”, died in 2017, leaving a Last Will and Testament that left his entire estate to his fourth wife, disinheriting his adult children from a previous marriage. The New York Times reports that French law does not permit a testator to disinherit his or her children in such a manner, and the adult children made a claim against the estate on that basis. The issue became whether the deceased singer had lived primarily in the United States or in France.
Halliday was active on Instagram, using the service to promote his albums and tours, as well as to share details of his personal life with fans. The adult children were, accordingly, able to track where their father had been located in the years leading up to his death, establishing that he had lived in France for 151 days in 2015 and 168 in 2016, before spending 7 months immediately preceding his death in France. Their position based on the social media evidence was preferred over that of Halliday’s widow and their claims against the estate were permitted.
Decisions like this raise the issue of whether parties to estate litigation can be required to produce the contents of their social media profiles as relevant evidence to the issues in dispute. Arguably, within the context of estates, social media evidence may be particularly relevant to dependant’s support applications, where the nature of an alleged dependant’s relationship with the deceased, along with the lifestyle enjoyed prior to death, may be well-documented.
The law regarding the discoverability of social media posts in estate and family law in Canada is still developing. While the prevalence of social media like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook is undeniable, services like these have not become popular only in the last fifteen years or so and it seems that users continue to share increasingly intimate parts of their lives online.
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