Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the
Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2018-3832
Honorable Alvin R. Sharp, Judge
GARLAND SMITH & ASSOCIATES By: James G. Smith Sarah M.
Smith Counsel for Appellants, Jeffrey Hanks Liner and Laura
D. Liner Centola
MARTZELL, BICKFORD & CENTOLA, A.P.C. By: Scott R.
Bickford Lawrence J. Centola, III Jason Z. Landry Jeremy J.
Landry JOHN C. LAIRD, APLC By: John C. Laird Counsel for
Appellee/Intervenor, James Conway Liner, IV
WILLIAMS, COX, and STEPHENS, JJ.
appellants, Jeffrey Liner ("Jeff") and Laura Liner
Centola ("Laura"), are two of the three children of
the testator, James Conway Liner, III ("Mr. Liner"
or "the testator"), and the appellee is their
brother, James Conway Liner, IV ("Conway"). The
appellants have appealed a January 29, 2019, order confirming
the appellee's appointment as provisional administrator
of the testator's succession and a March 25, 2019,
judgment declaring the testator's 2015 will null based on
the trial court's determination that the attestation
clause of the will was invalid. For the reasons set forth
below, we affirm the trial court's confirmation of the
appellee's appointment as provisional administrator, but
reverse the March 25, 2019, judgment declaring the will null
and remand the matter to the trial court for further
proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
Liner executed a will on June 11, 2013 ("the 2013
will"), in which he essentially divided his estate
equally among his three children, Conway, Jeff, and Laura. On
June 3, 2015, Mr. Liner executed a new will ("the 2015
will"), in which he revoked all prior wills and divided
the estate equally between Jeff and Laura. Mr. Liner died on
October 9, 2018. Shortly thereafter, his attorney, Anthony
Bruscato, met with the three Liner children and read the 2015
will. Upon learning that he had been excluded from his
father's estate, Conway announced his intention to
contest the 2015 will.
November 27, 2018, Jeff and Laura filed a "Petition to
Probate Notarial Will and for Letters of Testamentary."
Attached thereto were copies of both wills. In their
petition, Jeff and Laura sought probate of the 2015 will and
the issuance of letters of testamentary to allow Jeff to act
as the independent executor, as he had been named by the
testator to serve in that capacity in both wills.
same date, Conway filed an "Intervention in
Probate" in which he sought, inter alia,
to have the 2015 will declared null and void, alleging that
its attestation clause was invalid, and that Mr. Liner lacked
the requisite capacity to execute a testament on June 3,
2015. Conway also made numerous specific factual allegations
in support of a claim that his siblings "exerted undue
influence and duress on the decedent to cause the 2015 Will
to be an absolute nullity." Conway further requested,
inter alia, appointment as provisional administrator
of the succession "upon his qualification as required by
trial court signed an order appointing Conway provisional
administrator on December 6, 2018. Thereafter, Jeff and Laura
filed a motion and obtained an ex parte order
staying Conway's appointment pending a hearing on January
22, 2019. On January 9, 2019, Conway filed a motion which
sought, inter alia, that the court set the amount of
security and method of inventory to be taken as required by
law for Conway to complete his qualification as provisional
administrator. He also filed a motion to disqualify counsel
for his siblings, alleging that since Attorney Bruscato was
the notary who signed the 2015 will, his testimony would be
required in this matter. These matters were to be taken up at
the January 22, 2019, hearing.
the January 22, 2019 hearing, the trial court entered an
order, confirming Conway's appointment as provisional
administrator, and letters of provisional administration were
issued on February 22, 2019. Thereafter, on March 25, 2019,
the trial court rendered a judgment declaring the 2015 will
null. The trial court designated this judgment as a final
judgment in accordance with La. C.C.P. art. 1915(B). The
appellants, Jeff Liner and Laura Liner Centola, have appealed
both adverse rulings.
of the Attestation Clause in the 2015 Will
their first assignment of error, the appellants assert that
the trial court erred in nullifying the 2015 will based upon
its finding that the attestation clause therein was invalid.
According to the appellants, the attestation clause in the
2015 will evidences its substantial compliance with the
requirements of La. C.C. art. 1579(2).
appellants also urge error in the trial court's
conclusion, in its written reasons in support of its March
25, 2019, judgment, that the deviations from the attestation
clause requirements, whether minor or not, "when viewed
in the face of allegations of 'fraud'-cause the 2015
testament in question to be rendered invalid. . . ."
appellee, on the other hand, urges this Court to affirm the
trial court's judgment declaring the 2015 will to be null
for failure to comply with the requirements of La. C.C. art.
1579, particularly in light of the alleged acts of undue
influence and fraud on the part of the appellants raised ...