'Authentic Form' - it is more than a 'legal technicality'
BY JOHN SIMERMAN | STAFF WRITER , The Advocate
JAN 26, 2021
Jessica Brandt, the widow of auto dealership magnate Ray Brandt, scored a big legal victory on Monday in her bid to maintain control of his massive estate, when a Jefferson Parish judge invalidated the last will and testament he signed weeks before his death in November 2019.
District Judge Lee Faulkner Jr. also nullified a previous will that Ray Brandt had prepared in 2015, for the same reason: A technical flaw in how it was notarized.
Faulkner’s ruling appears to settle on a 2010 will to decide control of Brandt’s estate, which his attorney has valued at more than $300 million.
In that will, Jessica Brandt is firmly ensconced as both trustee and co-executor of his estate.
Under the 2019 will that Faulkner nullified Monday, Brandt had named Archbishop Rummel High School Principal Marc Milano to oversee a trust that was to include his entire estate.
That appeared to mean that Milano, not Jessica Brandt, would control the dealerships and other assets.
Regardless of the outcome, Ray Brandt willed that when Jessica Brandt dies, the trust would be split between her two grandchildren. Ray Brandt legally adopted them as adults shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer at age 72.
“Mrs. Brandt is obviously pleased with the court’s decision, but she is most pleased with the prospect of her family beginning the healing process,” said Jessica Brandt’s attorney, David Sherman, in a statement on Monday.
Faulkner’s decision came after several months of bitter legal brawling in a succession battle that has pitted Jessica Brandt against her two grandchildren.
In court, Milano has accused Jessica Brandt of having siphoned money from her deceased husband's estate, and also of having claimed ownership interest in the auto dealerships against Ray Brandt’s wishes.
Jessica Brandt has denied those allegations, in a defamation suit she filed recently against Milano.
It was Todd Dempster, chief operating officer of Ray Brandt Auto Group, who challenged Brandt’s 2019 will. That stirred allegations that Dempster's challenge was a thinly veiled attempt by Jessica Brandt to steer clear of a “no contest” clause in the 2019 will.
As executrix, she asked Faulkner instead to determine for himself which of three wills was the valid one.
He obliged on Monday, deeming that both the 2019 will and a previous one from 2015 had a fatal flaw:
Neither indicated that Ray Brandt had signed it in the notary’s presence; or that Brandt, the witnesses and notary were all together at the time.
“We strongly disagree with the court’s ruling and maintain that it is contrary to established Louisiana law and jurisprudence," said Tim Madden, Milano's attorney. "We will be reviewing and pursuing all appropriate and available legal options.”
Along with the auto group, assets that hang in the balance of the succession fight include Pascal’s Manale, the century-old Italian-Creole restaurant on Napoleon Avenue that Brandt bought days before he died.