It is a sadly familiar scenario: a family suffers a loss and soon after devolves to fighting over the will. The family may never imagine turning against one another, yet it happens over and over. The Youngblood family from Caddo Parish recently found themselves in such a fight.
Frances Youngblood from Caddo Parish had her longtime family attorney draft a will dividing her estate amongst her three children: Ray, James, and Mary Anne. Frances named her son James as her sole executor, and Ray and James left their estates to one another. The family lawyer, Patricia Miramon, drafted each of these wills. Ms. Miramon also drafted an addition to James’ original will, naming herself his executor.
Frances passed in 2011, Ray in 2012, and James in 2016. Once Frances passed, James granted Ms. Miramon general power of attorney and broad powers to act on his behalf, including as executor of Frances’ estate.
The battle between sister Mary Anne and Ms. Miramon began shortly before James’ death. Mary Anne contended that James lacked the capacity to act as executor of Frances’ estate due to documented mental illness. Mary Anne argued she should be executor as the sole remaining heir. Ms. Miramon argued she should be executor as specified in James’ will’s addition.
The First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo unusually appointed Mary Anne and Ms.Miramon co-executors. Both parties objected, and the District Court admitted it lacked the authority to appoint dual executors. The hearing was fraught with attorneys’ arguing, profanity, and objections. The hearing lacked witnesses, testimony, or exhibits that could have provided a factual basis for the District Court to appoint the most qualified executor.
Louisiana law requires a court to appoint an executor whenever the executor named is dead, disqualified, or declines. See La. C.C.P art 3083. The trial judge must choose the candidate who is best qualified personally and by training and experience. See Succession of Anderson. The trial court cannot rely solely on pleadings and attorneys’ arguments but must hear testimony regarding each party’s qualifications. See In Succession of Cucchero.
The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal noted that both Mary Anne and Ms. Miramon presented facts supporting their respective executrix rights. Mary Anne alleged in numerous motions that her brother James was mentally incompetent when his own will was drafted, as well as when he was appointed executor over his mother’s estate. James had been diagnosed with a chronic mental illness before his mother’s death. Mary Anne argued that as James’ sole heir and with his mental capacity in serious question, she was most qualified to be executor over her own mother’s will. Ms. Miramon argued that as James’ legal representative who performed highly specialized and effective work on the matter, she was the most qualified candidate. Because factual contentions obviously abound in this case, the Court of Appeal sent the case back to the District Court to conduct a trial.
Two legal principles emerge from this case. First, a trial court in Louisiana cannot appoint dual executors. Second, a trial court must listen to testimony and other evidence regarding a party’s qualifications to be executors. A trial court cannot simply appoint an executor based on the pleadings (documents submitted to the court before trial) and/or arguments amongst the lawyers. Carrying out the terms of a will is a serious business that should only be left to the most qualified candidate. An excellent lawyer can help draft a will in the present which can avoid executor identity questions in the future.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer: Stephanie Burnham
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