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Succession of Robinson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 26, 2019

SUCCESSION OF JOHN L. ROBINSON

          Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bossier, Louisiana Trial Court No. 20840. Honorable R. Lane Pittard, Judge

          BODENHEIMER, JONES & SZWAK, LLC By: David A. Szwak Counsel for Appellant, Jana Elliott, Independent Co-Executrix of the Succession of John L. Robinson

          LAW OFFICE OF DANIEL FARRIS, LLC By: Daniel Farris Counsel for Appellee, Mandi D. Collins Pracht

          Before WILLIAMS, GARRETT, and STEPHENS, JJ.

          GARRETT, J.

         Jana Elliott, as co-executrix of the succession of John L. Robinson, appeals a trial court judgment which denied her motions for summary judgment and declaratory judgment to enforce a no-contest clause in their father's will against her sister, Mandi D. Collins Pracht. We affirm the trial court judgment.

         FACTS

         Mr. Robinson was married to Dora Mae Robinson. They had five children: Sherry Dee Neace, Jana Leigh Elliott, Merla Renee Hill, Mandi Darlene Collins Pracht, and Krista Dione McClure. In June 2013, Mrs. Robinson died in Kansas, where she and her husband resided. Mr. Robinson subsequently moved to Louisiana, where he executed a notarial will on June 21, 2016.

         In late 2017, Mr. Robinson was in failing health. The record suggests that, at this point in time, there was apparently considerable animosity between his children. While he was in hospice, Mandi and Sherry sought a judgment of interdiction naming them as his curatrices. The judgment was signed on November 21, 2017, but retracted on November 27, 2017.

         Mr. Robinson died in Bossier City on December 4, 2017. In his will, Mr. Robinson stated that there were no forced heirs. He left Jana his real estate, rights in related insurance policies, and furniture. He gave his truck to Merla. He disinherited Sherry and made cash bequests of varying amounts to each of his four other children. The bequest to Mandi was $30, 000. The remainder of the estate was split between Jana and Merla, who were also named co-executors. The will contained the following no-contest (or "in terrorem") clause:

ELEVENTH: If any beneficiary under this will shall contest, obstruct, oppose or otherwise resist the probate of or validity of this will or any trust at any time created by me, or shall start or join in any proceeding tending to avoid or set aside any provision of this will or any trust, such beneficiary thereby shall forfeit all bequests and rights conferred upon such beneficiary under this will and any trust, and this will and any trust shall be given effect in all respects as if such beneficiary had predeceased me without issue.

         On January 4, 2018, Jana and Merla filed a petition for filing and execution of a notarial testament and for confirmation of co-executors. The court confirmed them as co-executors the following day.

         On January 12, 2018, Rita Bacot filed a document styled "Claim" in the succession proceedings that she signed as attorney for Mandi and Sherry. The document recited that it was filed in compliance with La. C.C.P. art. 3245. It asserted that Mandi and Sherry were heirs of their late mother, whose estate was never properly divided after her death. The claim estimated that her estate, which consisted of two houses in Kansas, bank accounts, vehicles, and other assets, was valued at approximately $500, 000. Approximately one month later, Bacot filed a motion to withdraw from the case, which was granted on February 26, 2018.

         On March 7, 2018, Jana and Merla filed a rule to show cause why the claim should not be dismissed. They asserted that the claim was meritless because Kansas recognized the legal concept of "joint tenancy," whereby their mother's property would have automatically succeeded to her husband. At their request, an attorney, Jeremy Babers, was appointed to represent Sherry, as they asserted she was an absentee defendant.

         Various documents were filed in the record in March and April 2018. They included a letter dated March 21, 2018, from Mandi and Sherry to the attorney representing the co-executors, in which they sought payment of $7, 757.10 in legal fees related to an interdiction of Mr. Robinson in which they had been named as curatrices. Another letter with the same date was sent to the same attorney by Mandi in which she stated that she had not been contacted by Jana or Merla regarding her inheritance. She asserted that her attorney had advised her that there was a shared interest in their mother's estate. Mandi stated that this was not a challenge to their father's will. Attached to this letter was a copy of a Facebook exchange purportedly between Jana's son and Mandi's daughter. During the course of this contentious conversation, which occurred on November 23, 2017, Jana's ...


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