Today on Hull on Estates, Noah Weisberg and Nick Esterbauer discuss the role of social media in the context of Estate Litigation.
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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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According to a CNBC report, only half of millionaire baby boomers think that it’s important to leave money to their kids. A third of them would rather leave their money to charity rather than their kids.
For example, Warren Buffett has reportedly given 85% of his wealth to charity (the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation). “My kids were elated when I told them. They knew my views on inherited wealth and shared them. … I believe in equality of opportunity. … They should not inherit my position in society, based on the womb that they were born from.”
One reasons for this given in the article is parents wanting their kids to learn the lessons of struggle and hard work, and the joys of self-earned success. Another reason cited is that parents may not think that their kids can handle a substantial legacy.
Yet another reason parents may not want to leave their kids a lot of money is to avoid having their kids appear in “Rich Kids of Instagram” (twitter: #rkoi). The site, whose by-line is “They have more money than you and this is what they do”, features pictures of young people enjoying, to the extreme, the richer things in life.
As stated by Andrew Carnegie when he wrote on the very topic of passing on an estate in “The Gospel of Wealth” in 1889, “I would as soon leave my son a curse as the almighty dollar.”
Have a great weekend. Spend it wisely.
Paul Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.