OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIRST CIRCUIT, PARISH
OF POINTE COUPEE
issue in this case is 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. 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). For the following reasons we reverse the appellate
court, reinstate the district court rulings, and remand to
the district court for further proceedings.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
decedent, Charles G. Harlan, died on November 26, 2015,
survived by his second wife, Xiaoping W. Harlan, and his four
adult children from his first marriage, Veni S. Harlan,
Hansel M. Harlan, Jeffrey D. Harlan, and Gretel G. Harlan
December 10, 2015 the Harlan 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. The petitioners also
asserted their agreement to an independent administration of
the succession in accordance with La. C.C.P. art. 3396 et
seq. On the same day, the district court granted the relief
sought, ordering that, pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 2891, the
2000 notarial testament be filed and executed, and directing
that the order be given the effect of probate. In addition,
an independent administration of the succession was ordered,
Hansel Harlan was appointed as the independent executor of
the succession, and he was invested with the rights, powers,
authorities, privileges, and duties appropriate to that
January 15, 2016 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,
filed an opposition to Xiaoping's petition, a rule to
show cause why succession documents, assets, and property
should not be turned over, and a rule to show cause why
Xiaoping should not be denied a widow's portion.
a February 11, 2016 hearing on Xiaoping's petition and
Hansel's opposition and rules to show cause, District
Court Judge Edward J. Gaidry, Pro Tempore, ruled in
Hansel's favor: declaring the 2012 testament and 2014
codicil null ab initio; denying Xiaoping's challenge to
the probated 2000 testament; denying Xiaoping's request
to be appointed administratrix; reconfirming Hansel as
executor; ordering Xiaoping to vacate residential property
owned by the succession within thirty days; requiring
Xiaoping to turn over all property belonging to the estate to
the executor; and denying a marital portion to Xiaoping.
Judgment was signed on February 24, 2016.
on February 23, 2016, Xiaoping filed a petition seeking
probate of an olographic testament allegedly executed by the
decedent on May 24, 2007, which she had recently discovered
among the decedent's effects. A hearing on the validity
of the 2007 testament was scheduled for April 7, 2016.
and his siblings opposed the petition, arguing that, although
the purported 2012 notarial testament was invalid for failure
to have the statutorily required attestation clause, the
document was nevertheless an authentic act that served to
revoke all prior testaments, including the 2007 olographic
testament; thus, the succession was intestate.
March 31, 2016 the parties filed a joint motion to limit the
April 7, 2016 hearing to issues related to the validity of
the 2007 olographic testament. At the conclusion of the April
7, 2016 hearing, newly-elected District Court Judge Elizabeth
A. Engolio ruled: that the 2007 olographic testament was
entirely written, dated, and signed in the decedent's
handwriting and met the legal requirements to be admitted to
probate and executed; and that the revocation language
contained in the invalid 2012 testament could not be applied
to revoke the 2007 testament. Judgment was signed on June 6,
April 27, 2016 Hansel and his siblings filed a motion for
devolutive appeal from the February 24, 2016 judgment, and on
June 10, 2016 they filed an appeal of the June 6, 2016
appeals were heard concurrently in the appellate court.
Concluding that the 2012 testament, though invalid, was
nonetheless an authentic act, which revoked the 2000
testament, the appellate court reversed that part of the
February 24, 2016 district court judgment that had rejected
the challenge to the probate of the March 9, 2000 testament.
See Succession of Harlan, 16-1345,
2017 WL 2445186 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/6/17) (unpublished). The
appellate court further reversed that part of the June 6,
2016 district court judgment that found that the invalid 2012
testament was not effective as an authentic act that could
revoke the May 24, 2007 olographic testament, and the
appellate court rendered judgment holding that the May 24,
2007 olographic testament was revoked; the matter was
remanded to the district court for further proceedings.
See Succession of Harlan, 16-1346,
2017 WL 2445187 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/6/17) (unpublished).
filed a writ application seeking review of the appellate
court decisions, which we granted. See
Succession of Harlan, 17-1132 (La. 12/5/17),
231 So.3d 624.
contends herein that the appellate court erred in ruling that
a revocation clause in an absolutely null notarial testament
can revoke prior testaments and in ruling that the
decedent's invalid 2012 testament was nevertheless in
authentic form such that the revocation clause was effective
and revoked all of the decedent's prior testaments.
applicable to the issues before this court, the salient facts
are not in dispute. The decedent herein executed three wills:
the first on March 9, 2000, the second on May 24, 2007; and
the third on June 5, 2012. The 2000 will was a statutory
testament under former La. R.S. 9:2442, the 2007 will was an
olographic testament pursuant to La. C.C. art. 1575; and the
2012 will was a putative notarial testament under La. C.C.
art. 1576 et seq. As a prefatory remark in each will, the
decedent stated that he revoked any and all prior wills. The
parties agreed that the 2012 will was invalid as a testament,
since it did not have the attestation clause required by La.
C.C. Art. 1577.
the only issues before this court involve the proper
application of succession law to the undisputed facts.
Questions of law are reviewed under a de novo standard of
review. This court is the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of
the laws of this state. Soileau v. Smith True Value &
Rental, 12-1711, p. 7 (La. 6/28/13), 144 So.3d 771, 777;
Red Stick Studio Development, L.L.C. v. State ex rel.
Department of Economic Development, 10-0193, p. 9 (La.
1/19/11), 56 So.3d 181, 187.
starting point in the interpretation of any law is the
language of the law itself. M.J. Farms, Ltd. v. Exxon
Mobil Corporation, 07-2371, p. 13 (La. 7/1/08), 998
So.2d 16, 27. See also Kelly v. State Farm Fire
& Casualty Company, 14-1921, p. 10 (La. 5/5/15), 169
So.3d 328, 335 ("[W]e begin as we must with the words of
the statute itself.").
text of a law is the best evidence of legislative intent. La.
R.S. 24:177(B)(1). When the meaning of a law cannot be
ascertained by the application of the provisions of Chapter 2
of the Preliminary Title of the Louisiana Civil Code (La.
C.C. arts. 9 - 13) and Chapter 1 of Title 1 of the Louisiana
Revised Statutes of 1950 (La. R.S. 1:1 - 1:17), the court
shall consider the intent of the legislature. La. R.S.
stated in La. C.C. art. 9, when a law is clear and
unambiguous and its application does not lead to absurd
consequences, the law shall be applied as written and no
further interpretation may be made in search of the intent of
the legislature. See also La. R.S. 1:4 ("When
the wording of a Section is clear and free of ambiguity, the
letter of it shall not be disregarded under the pretext of
pursuing its spirit."). When the language of the law is
susceptible of different meanings, it must be interpreted as
having the meaning that best conforms to the purpose of the
law. La. C.C. art. 10. When the words of a law are ambiguous,
their meaning must be sought by examining the context ...