In other words, is a so called "no contest clause" valid in Louisiana?
Succession of Laborde, (La. App. 1st Cir. 5/31/18). Glenn Laborde died in December of 2012. Mr. Laborde’s testament was probated in January of 2013. Mr. Laborde’s daughter, Glynis, filed a motion to nullify the testament due to lack of capacity and undue influence.
At roughly the same time, a codicil of Mr. Laborde was filed in the succession proceeding. The codicil provided that if Glynis filed a legal action contesting any provision of the testament, all legacies in favor of Glynis would be revoked. More specifically, the codicil provided as follows:
If my daughter, Glynis Annette Laborde, files a legal action in court contesting any provision of my April 14, 2010 will, all bequests I make to her or in trust for her benefit in that will, particularly without limit the bequest of paragraph 2.4(A), shall be revoked, forfeited, null and void and without effect, and lapse.
Although the codicil was filed, it was not probated or otherwise made executory until September of 2016. Glynis voluntarily dismissed her motion to nullify the testament before the codicil was probated, but after the parties engaged in discovery and after Glynis’ mother, Mrs. Laborde, in her capacity as executor, filed a motion for summary judgment.
After the voluntary dismissal of Glynis’ claims, Mrs. Laborde and Glynis each filed motions to be placed in possession of property under the testament. Mrs. Laborde then sought to enforce the no-contest clause in the codicil. Glynis objected to the enforcement of the no-contest clause, arguing that her actions before the probate of the codicil had no legal effect.
The trial court declined to enforce the no-contest clause. The trial court explained that Glynis filed her motion before she knew of the existence of the codicil and withdrew the motion approximately six months after the codicil was filed. The trial court found that Glynis’ filing of the motion to contest the testament without knowledge of the codicil and her subsequent withdrawal of the motion failed to qualify as a legal action contesting the testament, as contemplated by Mr. Laborde’s codicil. Mrs. Laborde and Mr. Laborde’s other legatee, Daniel Laborde, appealed.
The court of appeal found that the question presented was not one of retroactivity, but of the meaning of the language of the no-contest clause.
The court of appeal noted that under Civil Code article 1611, the intent of the testator is paramount in interpreting the provisions of a testament. If the language of the testament is clear, it must be carried out according to its written terms. The court of appeal further observed that Mr. Laborde left no forced heirs. Therefore, he was free to dispose of his estate to whomever and in any manner he wished and to impose any conditions on his legacies, as long as the conditions contained nothing contrary to law or good morals. La. Civ. Code arts. 1519 and 1528 (2018).
The court of appeal found the language of Mr. Laborde’s codicil to be clear and unambiguous. Mr. Laborde conditioned all legacies to Glynis upon her not filing a legal action contesting any portion of his testament.
The court observed that after Mrs. Laborde filed the petition to probate the testament, Glynis filed a motion to nullify the testament and to convert the proceeding to an intestate succession. The court of appeal acknowledged the trial court’s finding that Glynis’ motion failed to qualify as a legal action contesting the will under the codicil because the motion was filed before the codicil was probated and before Glynis or her attorney knew of the existence of the codicil. However, the court of appeal found that the no-contest clause contained neither a knowledge requirement nor a good faith exception based upon lack of knowledge. The court of appeal found that Mr. Laborde could have restricted the clause’s application to legal actions filed after the codicil was probated or after Glynis learned of its contents. However, he did not do
so. In the absence of ambiguity, the provisions of the codicil must be carried out, as written, under Civil Code article 1611.
The court of appeal explained that under the codicil, Glynis forfeited all legacies by filing a legal action contesting the testament, leaving no good faith exception available.
In summary, the court of appeal concluded that Mr. Laborde was free to dispose of his estate as he wished. The court’s duty was to follow his express wishes. Under the express terms enunciated by Mr. Laborde in his codicil, the consequence of Glynis violation of the no-contest clause was that all legacies in favor of Glynis were revoked, forfeited, null, void, without effect, and lapsed. It would be error to disregard Mr. Laborde’s clearly expressed intent.
For these reasons, the court of appeal reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the case for further proceedings.
It is worth noting that a number of other cases in Louisiana have upheld the validity of a no contest provision in a will.
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Dan D. Schaneville
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