Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address whether the law in effect at the time a testamentary trust came into existence allowed the settlor of the trust to provide for substitution of beneficiaries when the original beneficiary died testate, but without descendants. The Supreme Court concluded the law permitted such substitution. View "Succession of Dean Bradley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Dejaun Kendrick, individually and on behalf of her minor son, sued the estate of the deceased, Anthony Michael Barre, seeking filiation and child support. The estate filed exceptions of prescription, no cause of action, and no right of action. The trial court granted the exceptions, but the court of appeal reversed. Finding an initial child support claim cannot be brought after the father’s death, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal and reinstated the trial court’s ruling granting the exception of no cause of action. View "Kendrick v. Estate of Michael Barre, et al." on Justia Law

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Robert Johnson and Beverly Edwin were married for twenty-two years, and together had three children. During their marriage, Johnson signed and recorded an “Affidavit of Usufruct” in favor of Edwin “for the remainder of [Ms. Edwin’s] life even if she remarries.” This lifetime usufruct covered Johnson’s separate property in Walker, Louisiana. During their marriage, Johnson and Edwin lived in a house on the subject property and also rebuilt the house together following a fire. The couple separated in 2002 or 2003, at which time Edwin moved off of the premises, while Johnson continued to live there. The couple divorced in 2006. Johnson died intestate on August 13, 2010. In June 2014, Edwin petitioned to be named administratrix of Johnson’s succession and was initially appointed as such. However, the trial court removed her as administratrix and appointed three of Johnson’s fourteen children to serve as co-administrators, namely: Lorie Parker, Aveis Parker, and Robert Johnson, Jr. In 2018, after a family conflict arose regarding who had a right to use the property, Edwin filed a “Motion to Enforce Conventional Usufruct and Spousal Reimbursement Claim,” contending the house on the property was vacant, the value of the property was depreciating, and it needed repair. Edwin further alleged Johnson’s estate owed her $21,600.00, representing the amount of money she claimed to have expended to clean, maintain, and improve the property due to the alleged neglect of the co-administrators. The co-administrators countered, filing a peremptory exception of prescription in which they argued that Edwin’s usufruct was extinguished by the ten-year prescription of nonuse. In opposition to the exception, Edwin contended that the prescription of nonuse did not apply to a lifetime usufruct. Alternatively, she asserted that she had used the property during the pertinent ten-year period so as to interrupt the accrual of prescription for nonuse. Certiorari was granted in this matter to determine whether a usufruct “granted for life” was subject to the ten-year prescription of nonuse set forth in La. C.C. art. 621; and, if so, whether the lifetime usufruct established in this case was prescribed pursuant to that article. After review of the record and consideration of the provisions of the Louisiana Civil Code, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that while a lifetime usufruct may prescribe due to nonuse, the usufruct at issue did not prescribe as there was no ten-year period of continued nonuse. The lower courts’ judgments were reversed. View "In re: Succession of the Estate of Robert Johnson" on Justia Law

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James Conway Liner, III (“Mr. Liner”) executed two notarial testaments: one in 2013 and another in 2015 (purporting to revoke all prior testaments). The 2013 testament, executed pursuant to La. C.C. art. 1577 for testators who were able to read and sign their name, divided Mr. Liner’s property equally amongst his three children: James Conway Liner, IV (“Conway”), Jeffrey Liner (“Jeff”), and Laura Liner Centola (“Laura”). The 2015 testament excluded Conway from any inheritance and was executed pursuant to La. C.C. art. 1579 for a testator who was unable to read regardless of whether they can sign their own name. Mr. Liner died in 2018. Jeff and Laura filed a petition to probate the 2015 testament. Conway intervened and sought to have the 2015 testament declared null under various theories including an allegedly defective attestation clause. As it was at the original hearing, the primary issue presented was whether the attestation clause verifying that Mr. Liner declared he “signed” the testament was substantially similar to the La. C.C. art. 1579 requirement that the attestation clause verify a testator declared he signed his name “at the end” and “on each other separate page” of the testament. The Louisiana Supreme Court also addressed Conway’s additional arguments as to whether the attestation clause reflected an inconsistency in the notary both following and reading the testament and whether the attestation clause failed to establish that Mr. Liner declared he heard the reading of the will in the presence of the notary and the witnesses. Following a careful review of the law, the Supreme Court vacated its original decree in this case, affirmed the decision of the court of appeal (reversed the trial court's nullification of the 2015 testament), and clarified the analytical framework for determining whether a notarial will is in substantial compliance with the provisions of the Civil Code. View "Succession of James Conway Liner, III" on Justia Law

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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