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.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer