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INHERITANCE

Celebrity lawyer beats family to inheritance

High-profile lawyer Mona Høiness will get to keep a 100-million kroner ($17 million) inheritance after winning her case against the family of a wealthy couple she befriended in the 1980s.

Celebrity lawyer beats family to inheritance
Photo: Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix

Speaking after the verdict, Høiness said the thought of losing the case had never occurred to her, with a wealth of documentation highlighting the strength of her relationship with the deceased couple, Per and Synnøve Anker Urdahl.

Eight of the couple’s nieces and nephews had insisted that a will making Høiness the sole beneficiary of the pair's fortune should be deemed null and void.

“If these people – who Synnøve never liked – had won, it certainly wouldn’t have been her final wish,”  she told news agency NTB.

Mette Yvonne Larsen, Høiness' lawyer, said her client’s determination to win the case had not been motivated by money.

“Her finances were already in good order beforehand, but she was accused of being a robber of the elderly who had ripped off an old woman,” said Larsen, adding:

“They’d had a close relationship for 15 to 20 years, and it was quite natural and reasonable for her to inherit.”

The family members contesting the will said Synnøve Anker Urdahl had suffered from dementia when, in 2007, she signed away her money to the lawyer and former television show host.

Per Urdahl died in 2002, while his widow lived until 2011, spending her final years in a nursing home after a fall.

According to Høiness, Per Urdahl made clear to her his intentions in 1986 when he allegedly told her: “You shall inherit everything”.

In February 2007, Synnøve Anker Urdahl signed the controversial will bequeathing 100 million kroner, as well as a number of properties, to the now 54-year-old lawyer.

In its ruling on Monday, Oslo district court rejected the family’s claim that Synnøve Anker Urdahl had been senile when she signed away her fortune.

Mona Høiness has repeatedly emphasized her close relationship with the Urdahl family, especially Synnøve, and said she had long been treated like a daughter by the pair.

“I felt like one of the family for years. For more than 20 years I celebrated Christmas with the Urdahl couple,” she said.

According to Mette Yvonne Larsen, the losing party will have to pay court costs of almost three million kroner.

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INHERITANCE

Reader question: What are the rules on inheriting property in France?

French inheritance laws have several restrictions and quirks which can come as a bit of a surprise to foreigners, so if you are intending to make a Will in France, here's what you need to know.

Reader question: What are the rules on inheriting property in France?
Some of the files from the dispute over musician Johnny Hallyday's estate. Photo: Martin Bureau | AFP

Whether you live in France or own assets such as property here, you need to decide whether to have your Will administered under French law or the law of your home country. To find out how to make sure any previous Wills are still valid in France, click here

If you make a Will in France it is always advisable to get legal advice from a notaire or avocat, but here are some of the main points to be aware of.

Children

Much depends on whether you have any children. Under French law, children are guaranteed a share of the estate. They cannot be disinherited (even if you are estranged) and there is a minimum share of your estate that you must leave them.

Children are héritiers réservataires, who cannot be cut out of the Will and this is strict – French rocker Johnny Hallyday’s heirs were involved in a lengthy legal battle when he attempted to bypass his children in favour of his latest wife, and that’s despite the fact he lived in the USA for the last 20 years of his life.

The share they receive depends on the number of children. One child is entitled to half their deceased parent’s estate. Two children share two-thirds, and three or more share three-quarters. The rest of the estate can be passed on as you see fit.

The rules for stepchildren are more complicated. It is advisable, as it is in all situations, to discuss your personal situation with your notaire or legal expert.

As mentioned above, foreign nationals in France have the option of having their estate managed under the laws of their country of birth, so if you really don’t want your kids to inherit, you would need to opt for this.

Spouse or partner

You are not legally obliged to leave anything to your husband, wife or registered partner, but of course many people will want to ensure that their loved one is taken care of financial. 

And if you’re not multi-millionaire rock star, then being obliged to leave up to three quarters of everything to the children can leave the surviving spouse or partner with very little.

Since property represents the bulk of most people’s assets, the family home can also end up divided between several owners.

This does not mean a surviving spouse is left homeless.

As well as being able to inherit at least part of the estate, giving them a say in any property sales, for example, they also have the right to remain in the family home – as long as it is the main residence – for the remainder of their lifetime.

They have to formally declare their intention to do so within a year of their spouse’s death and just in case people fall out in the aftermath of a death, it is wise to make a notaire aware of this declaration.

For more answers to frequently asked questions about Wills and inheritance in France click here

The Notaires de France website also offers useful advice in English, while a list of English-speaking notaires in France is available here.

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