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Succession of Delino v. Jake Delino Trust

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 5, 2018

SUCCESSION OF KEFFER THOMAS DELINO, II
v.
THE JAKE DELINO TRUST, ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF VERMILION, NO. 98814 HONORABLE EDWARD D. RUBIN, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Louis G. Garrot, III COUNSEL FOR: Plaintiff/Appellee - Succession of Keffer Thomas Delino, II

          Lawrence L. Lewis, III Onebane Law Firm, APLC COUNSEL FOR: Defendant/Appellant - Carole Delino Niebler

          Paul G. Moresi, III COUNSEL FOR: Defendants/Appellants - The Jake Delino Trust and James D. Delino, Jr.

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, John D. Saunders, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges. REVERSED.

          ULYSSES GENE THIBODEAUX CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff, the succession representative of the Succession of Keffer Thomas Delino, II, filed suit against the defendants, the Jake Delino Trust (Trust), Carole Delino Niebler (Carole), and James D. Delino, Jr. (Jimmy), seeking to annul a transfer of trust interest. Created in the testament of James D. Delino, Sr. (James), the Trust named both Jimmy and his brother, Keffer Thomas Delino, II (Keffer), income beneficiaries for life and directed the trustee, upon their deaths, to distribute the corpus of the trust to their "legal heirs." After Keffer's passing, a one-half interest in the corpus was transferred to Jimmy subject to a lifetime usufruct in favor of their mother, Carole, as directed by our law on intestacy. The trial court, however, found that Keffer's universal legatee was his only legal heir and granted the motion to annul the transfer.

         Interpreting the Trust in accordance with the law in effect at the time of its creation, we find that the trial court legally erred in his judicial construction of the term "legal heir" and in his annulment of the transfer of trust interest. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's judgment in its entirety.

         I.

         ISSUES

         The defendants entreat us to consider:

(1) whether the trial court erred in refusing to consider the testamentary intent of James D. Delino, Sr. in creating the Jake Delino Trust and in regard to his disposition of the principal interest of the deceased income beneficiary in the corpus of the trust;
(2) what was the testamentary intent of James D. Delino, Sr. in instructing in his will that the principal interest in the corpus of the Jake Delino
Trust attributable to the deceased beneficiary would go to the deceased beneficiary's "legal heirs";
(3) whether the trial court erred in its determination of the meaning of the phrase "legal heirs" in James D. Delino, Sr.'s last will and testament;
(4) in view of the above issues, whether the trial court erred in annulling the Transfer of Trust Interest;
(5) whether the trial court erred in holding that Keffer Thomas Delino, II's interest in the Jake Delino Trust was an asset of his succession that passed under his will to his universal legatee, Brent Andrew Griffin; and
(6) whether the trial court erred in its finding that there was no language in James Delino, Sr.'s will signifying that he wanted to preclude his sons from leaving their estates at death to a third party (a non-Delino)?

         II.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 17, 1989, James executed his last will and testament in which he provided that, upon his death, the vast majority of his estate would go into a spendthrift trust. He named as income beneficiaries his two sons, Keffer and Jimmy. The testament further provided that, upon the death of the first income beneficiary, the deceased beneficiary's interest in the Trust would terminate, and the Trust would continue as to the surviving income beneficiary until his death. Upon the termination of the Trust as to any interest, James directed the trustee to distribute the proportionate part of the trust corpus to the "legal heirs" of the deceased income beneficiary. In relevant part, the testament provided:

If it has not already been done, at my death I establish a trust to be called the Jake Delino Trust. I appoint my sister, Alfreda Delino as Trustee to serve until her death or incapacity. When that occurs, I ...

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