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Succession of Heyd

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

December 6, 2018

SUCCESSION OF LAWRENCE HEYD

          APPEAL FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 53138 HONORABLE G. MICHAEL CANADAY, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Kenneth Michael Wright 203 West Clarence Street Lake Charles, LA COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Lawrence Heyd, Jr.

          Russell J. Stutes, Jr. Stutes & Lavergne, LLC 600 Broad Street Lake Charles, LA COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Roy Brent Young

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Sylvia R. Cooks, and Marc T. Amy, Judges.

          MARC T. AMY, JUDGE

         The appellant contested his father's will to the extent it included a provision by which his father expressly disinherited his children. Citing a head injury and associated seizure activity, the appellant asserted that he is a forced heir. The trial court rejected the plaintiff's argument, finding no merit in his claim of permanent incapacity to take care of his person or administering his estate. The trial court also concluded that, even if a forced heir, the decedent had just cause for disinherison. The present appeal followed. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         This matter arises within the succession proceeding of Lawrence Heyd, Sr., opened following his May 2013 death. Upon the appointment of a succession representative, the appellant, Lawrence "Tee" Heyd, Jr., filed a Rule to Invalidate Testament. Specifically, Tee challenged that aspect of Mr. Heyd's 2008 last will and testament by which he stated that:

I further declare that all of My Children are physically and mentally capable of taking care of themselves and are not forced heirs pursuant to La. Civ. Code art. 1493 (or any successor provision).
In the event any court were to judicially determine that any of my children are forced heirs pursuant to La. Civ. Code art. 1493 (or any successor provision), I further declare that My Children are intentionally disinherited and omitted from this Will as a result of a lack of contact in excess of two years, and the fact that My Children have been guilty of cruel treatment towards me as they filed a lawsuit against me during my lifetime and received a sizable settlement from me related to the lawsuit.[1]

         In his rule, Tee noted that he was "gored by a goat in the left frontal area of his cranium" and that he underwent a craniotomy in 2001. He alleged that, due to the incident and the surgery, he "suffered a traumatic brain injury, with personality change, and cognitive impairment." Tee further contended that "[h]e is also subject to seizures as a result of the accident and the surgery" and explained he "has been determined to be disabled by the Social Security Administration, the State of Louisiana, and the insurer for his then employer, Citgo Petroleum Corporation." Tee also denied Mr. Heyd's suggestion that he failed to communicate with his father. Due to these factors, Tee asserted, he was entitled to have the provision of the will purporting to disinherit him declared null and void pursuant to La.Civ.Code art. 1626.[2]

         Upon the Succession's challenge to Tee's claim, the matter proceeded to a two- day trial in September 2017. The trial court ultimately ruled in favor of the Succession and rejected Tee's assertion of incapacity as explained in its written reasons for ruling:

Mr. Heyd, Jr., is not a forced heir. Pursuant to the Louisiana Civil Code article 1493, [forced heirs are descendants] of the first degree who, at the time of the death of the decedent, are twenty-three years of age or younger or descendants of the first degree of any age who, because off mental incapacity or physical infirmity, are permanently incapable of taking care of their persons or administering their estates at the time of the death of the decedent. Subsection E elaborates that the definition of "permanently incapable of taking care of their persons or administering their estates at the time of the death of the decedent" shall include descendants who, at the time of death of the decedent, have, according to medical documentation, an inherited, incurable disease or condition that may render them incapable of caring for their persons or administering their estates in the future. A descendant's condition may fluctuate in severity and still be considered a permanent incapacity. Succession of Ardoin, 07-43 (La.App. 3 Cir. 05/30/07)[, ] 957 So.2d 937.
The Plaintiff suffered from seizures resulting from a 2001 injuring when a goat horn penetrated his head. The Plaintiff's own evidence [e]stablishes that the episodes average three times per month and can last between seventeen (17) and forty-six (46) minutes. During these episodes, the degree of any incapacity is disputed, and Plaintiff's own testimony is inconsistent and creates credibility issues.
Mr. Heyd, Jr.'s disability, if currently existent, is minimal and does not materially affect the handling of his affairs. Dr. Domingue opined Mr. Heyd, Jr. was less than candid on his intake forms. No medical limitations have been placed on Mr. Heyd, Jr. Vocational experts also support that Mr. Heyd, Jr. does not belong to the protected categories La. C.C. art 1494 envisioned. In addition, Mr. Heyd, Jr. has not refilled his seizure medication in years.
The evidence[] adduced at trial does not meet the burden set out in La. C.C. 1493 or the case law. Mr. Heyd, Jr.'s condition is not inherited and does not render him permanently incapable of taking care of his person. While Mr. Heyd, Jr. has been diagnosed with a permanent condition that leads to short spells of incapacity, there was no evidence these spells lasted for more than an hour. Mr. Heyd, Jr. owns and operates an exotic animal breeding and sales business. This business has been run for years and has grown and expanded since conception while assisted by his wife even though she has other employment. Some of Mr. Heyd's Jr.'s work duties include traveling far distances to attend animal auctions, bidding and buying animals at these auctions, and transporting them to his farm after purchase. He is responsible for the care of these animals, which requires him to regularly feed the animals, dispense medication to the animals, and to tranquilize the animals in order for safe transport. Because these activities reflect capabilities and skills exceeding that of a person "incapable of taking care of their person or administering their estate," it is clear that Mr. Heyd, Jr. does not meet the criteria of a forced heir.

         Although the trial court rejected Tee's claim of forced heir status, it found, alternatively, that even if a forced heir, his father had just cause for disinheriting him due to cruel treatment ...


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