Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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The testator herein executed a notarial testament in 2016, naming her niece as her sole legatee. After the testator’s death in 2018, her widower challenged the testament, contending inter alia that it was rendered invalid by the failure to state in the attestation clause that the testator declared she had signed “at the end” of the testament. The issue this case presented was whether the language of an attestation clause in the 2016 notarial testament, which failed to expressly state that the testator declared or signified that she signed the testament “at the end,” even though it stated the testator signed “on each page,” violated the requirements of La. C.C. art. 1577 and rendered the testament absolutely null under La. C.C. art. 1573. The district court invalidated the testament, finding “the only deviation from La.Civ.Code art. 1577(2) was the absence of the words ‘at the end’ in the attestation clause.” The Louisiana Supreme Court found the attestation clause in this case made use of the exact language set forth in the sample attestation clause in the pre-1980 version of former La. R.S. 9:2442; i.e., that the will was “[s]igned on each page” (as noted, when changed in 1980 to its current wording, the difference was denominated by its authors as a technical and/or semantic change). The question for the Supreme Court reduced to whether such a semantic departure from Article 1577’s current language could be considered substantially similar to the requisite attestation ‒ that the testator “signed at the end and on each other separate page.” The Court recognized that these phrases had slightly different connotations, as once the testator signs “at the end” of the testamentary recitations he was not required to sign after the attestation clause even if it concluded on a subsequent page; the testator was only required to sign on each of the other separate pages that precede his signature at the end of the testamentary recitations. Here, the declaration the testator signed "on each page" of a testament necessarily established that the testament had been signed on every page, including the page containing the end of the testament. The appellate and district court decisions were reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Succession of Peggy Blackwell Bruce" on Justia Law

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The testator herein executed two notarial testaments: one in 2013 and another in 2015 (which purported to revoke all prior testaments). The 2013 testament divided the testator’s property equally among his three adult children (Conway, Jeffrey, and Laura). The 2015 testament, executed under La. C.C. art. 1579 (for a testator who is unable to read regardless of whether he is able to sign his name), divided the testator’s property between only two of his children (Jeffrey and Laura), excluding the third child (Conway). After the testator’s death in 2018, Conway challenged the validity of the 2015 testament on several bases, in response to his siblings’ attempt to probate the testament. The issue raised by this case was whether the language of an attestation clause in the 2015 testament, which failed to expressly state that the testator declared or signified that he signed the testament “at the end of the testament and on each other separate page,” in accordance with the requirements of La. C.C. art. 1579, rendered the testament absolutely null under La. C.C. art. 1573. The Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the attestation clause here stated simply that the testator "signed" the testament, which could only establish the testator signed the eight-page testament once, rather than "at the end" and "on each other separate page," as required by La. C.C. art. 1579(2). "An attestation clause that fails to state that the testament was signed at the end and on each other separate page fails to inform the testator and witnesses that the testator has a responsibility to sign every page of a multiple-page testament, and “signing one’s name on each page of the will undoubtedly offers more heightened protection from surreptitious replacement of pages." The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal and reinstated the trial court's judgment, which invalidated the 2015 testament. View "Succession of James Conway Liner, III" on Justia Law

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Edward Robin (Testator) had ten children: five from his first marriage to Doris Robin–Chris, Don, Brad, Edward, Jr., and Donna Robin; three from his second marriage to Thaslia Robin–Marcela Dardar, Elizabeth Locicero, and Lee Robin; and two other children–Chantel Viada and Chad Robin. On November 4, 2004, Testator executed a notarial testament before Notary Public Todd Villarrubia and two witnesses. In that testament, Testator bequeathed his gun collection and hunting equipment to Lee and the remainder of his estate to Brad and Don. His other seven children were not included in the testament. Brad and Don were named in the testament as co-executors of the estate. Testator also executed a “REVOCATION OF ANY AND ALL PRIOR WILLS AND CODICILS” before Notary Villarrubia and two witnesses–Ralph Litolff, Jr. and Monique Hardy. That document (the act of revocation) was not dated and consisted of one sentence, which stated: “I, EDWARD JOHN ROBIN, SR., revoke any and all prior Wills and Codicils that I may have made as pursuant to La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. 1607.” Testator died on August 22, 2017. Pursuant to a petition for appointment of an administrator, premised on an allegation that Testator died intestate, Chantel was appointed administratrix. Brad (Legatee) opposed Chantel's appointment, arguing Testator did not die intestate. In his petition, Legatee alleged that Testator left a testament in notarial form dated November 4, 2004, recognized that an act of revocation had been executed by Testator, and urged that the act of revocation, which had not been dated by Notary, was ineffective because it did not satisfy the authentic act requirement of La. C.C. art. 1607. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the revocation was valid. The Court found that because extrinsic evidence regarding the date on which the act of revocation was executed did not “negate or vary” the content of the act of revocation, the lower courts improperly applied La. C.C. art. 1848 to preclude the admission of such evidence. "The extrinsic evidence establishes that the act of revocation was executed after the testament at issue in this case. Because the testament was revoked by the testator," the trial court’s judgment was reversed, and this matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Succession of Edward Robin, Sr." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two of the decedent’s children, brought wrongful death and survival actions under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act against a nursing home, alleging that injuries the decedent received when the nursing home’s employee dropped her while transferring her from a bath chair to her bed caused her to suffer injuries that ultimately resulted in her death. The decedent’s granddaughter, rather than plaintiffs, initially filed a request for a medical review panel ostensibly as the representative either of the decedent or her estate. The lower courts found that the granddaughter was a “claimant” within the meaning of the Medical Malpractice Act, namely La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(4) and (A)(16), and that her timely request had therefore suspended prescription with regard to the medical malpractice claims of the plaintiffs, even though they had not been named as claimants in the original request for a medical review panel. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court found the lower courts erred in concluding the granddaughter was a proper “claimant” under the language of the Act on the basis that she was a succession representative for the decedent’s estate. Because the initial request for the medical review panel was not made by a proper “claimant,” prescription was not tolled. Accordingly, because defendant’s exception of prescription should have been granted, the trial court’s ruling denying the exception of prescription was reversed. View "Guffey v. Lexington House, LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether a revocation clause, contained within a notarial testament that was found to be void for failure to include an attestation clause, could be valid as an authentic act and thereby revoke two prior testaments, resulting in an intestate succession. Charles Harlan died on November 26, 2015, survived by his second wife, Xiaoping Harlan, and his four adult children from his first marriage. The children filed a petition in the district court, seeking to have the decedent’s March 9, 2000 testament filed and executed and to have Hansel Harlan named as executor of the succession; Xiaoping filed a petition to nullify the probated March 9, 2000 testament, to have Hansel removed as executor, and to have herself appointed as administratrix of the succession. Xiaoping further sought to file a purported notarial testament, executed on June 5, 2012 and containing a revocation of all prior testaments, along with a March 1, 2014 codicil. The district court found no valid revocation. The appellate court ruled that the invalid testament nevertheless met the requirements of La. C.C. art. 1833 so as to qualify as an authentic act, capable of revoking prior testaments pursuant to La. C.C. art. 1607(2). The Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in reversing those parts of the February 24, 2016 and the June 6, 2016 district court judgments, which found that the invalid 2012 testament did not contain a valid authentic act that revoked the March 9, 2000 and the May 24, 2007 testaments, and the appellate court erred in rendering judgments holding that the March 9, 2000 and the May 24, 2007 testaments were revoked by the absolutely null 2012 testament. View "Succession of Charles George Harlan" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review of this succession case to determine whether the testament at issue iwass valid under Louisiana law, where the first two pages of the testament were initialed rather than signed and where the testament contained no attestation clause which met all of the requirements of La. Civ.Code art. 1577, nor any attestation by the notary beyond the general notarization. The Court found the propounded testament materially deviated from the form requirements of La. Civ.Code art. 1577 and was thus absolutely null pursuant to La. Civ.Code art. 1573. View "Successions of Jeanette Toney" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether an incomplete date in an attestation clause invalidated a last will and testament when the full date appeared in the first paragraph of the testament and on every page of the testament, including the page of the attestation clause. The district court granted the testator’s daughter’s motion for summary judgment seeking to set aside the will as invalid because the attestation clause was not fully dated and, thus, failed to meet the requirements of La. Civ. Code art. 1577. The court of appeal affirmed. Because the Supreme Court concluded the attestation clause in the notarial testament substantially complied with the requirements of Art. 1577, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Succession of James Jason Holbrook, Sr." on Justia Law

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On May 29, 2009, Plaintiff Rose McCann filed a petition for divorce against Defendant Walter McCann in the Family Court. A judgment granting the divorce was later signed in early, 2010, leaving the identification, valuation, management, and partition of the community property as the remaining issues in the case. Plaintiff filed a petition for partition of community property, moving the court to appoint various experts to assist in the partition. The Family Court appointed real estate and financial experts to inventory and value the real estate, and determine the value of the remaining property. Thereafter, a “Notice of Filing of Succession” was filed, stating that Defendant's succession had been opened in the District Court under Probate. Plaintiff filed a motion to substitute the succession executrix the decedent's daughter, as the party defendant in the partition proceeding. The succession executrix filed a “Declinatory Exception of Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Motion to Transfer,” seeking to have the partition action transferred to the District Court. The Family Court overruled the exception, denied the motion to transfer, and signed a judgment substituting the executrix into the partition action as the defendant, in place of the deceased Defendant. The executrix unsuccessfully appealed the Family Court's decision. The Supreme Court granted Defendant executrix’s writ application and remanded the matter to the appellate court for briefing, argument and full opinion. On remand, the appellate court by a majority decision again denied the executrix' writ application. The issue now before the Supreme Court was the correctness of the lower courts’ rulings. Upon review, the Court concluded that the Family Court no longer had exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over the partition of community property when one of the former spouses died. Thus, the Family Court erred in overruling the Defendant executrix’s exception of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "McCann v. McCann" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court was whether the appellate court erred in reversing a trial court's denial of Harold Wright's exception of res judicata. Mr. Wright was paralyzed and incapacitated by a medical accident in 1973. He received $1.7 million in damages. The court declared Mr. Wright an interdict and appointed his wife as his curatrix. In conjunction with the proceeding, the court issued an order allowing the curatrix to invest the damages in long-term bonds. No portion of the Mr. Wright's capital estate could be withdrawn from any long range investments without specific orders from the court. Through his investment bank Defendant A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc. (and with the court's permission), Mr. Wright received disbursements from the invested damages award. In 2002, Mrs. Wright sued Defendant alleging breach of fiduciary duty. Specifically, she argued that A.G. Edwards and its agents misappropriated the entire $1.7 million and disbursed principal in violation of the court's order. Furthermore, Mrs. Wright alleged that when one of her account managers left A.G. Edwards to work for Morgan Stanley, he took Mr. Wright's remaining principal with him. The dispute went to arbitration. While pending, Mr. Wright died, thereby terminating the interdiction proceeding. An arbitration panel issued an award in favor of Defendants. Mr. Wright's estate then filed a motion with the district court, and Defendants filed several exceptions including an exception of res judicata where they contended the arbitration proceeding precluded further court action. The trial court denied the exception, and the appellate court reversed, dismissing the estate's claims. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the arbitration award was unconfirmed, and therefore did not have a preclusive effect. Accordingly, the Court reversed the appellate court's ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.