Last Will and Testament must comply with all parts of the law

A last Will and Testament needs to meet certain requirements. Those requirements vary from state to state. In today’s case, the trial court and two appellate courts found Ronnie Toney’s 2014 Last Will and Testament was not in compliance with the requirements of Louisiana probate law because the Will was intialled, not signed on the first two pages, and the witness clause did not specifically say each page of the Will was signed in front of the witnesses (though it apparently was). The last Will and Testament was signed by two witnesses and signed and initialed by Ronnie, and all three signatures were notarized at the same time, but though that would fly in Arizona, that just wasn’t good enough for Louisiana law.

Louisiana law has a persnickety provision that says “The formalities prescribed for the execution of a testament must be observed or the testament is absolutely null.” Not much wiggle room there. The Louisiana Supreme Court even put the words “must” and “absolutely null” in bold when quoting the statute.

One of the “formalities” spelled out in Louisiana law is that “witnesses shall sign the following declaration, or one substantially similar: ‘In our presence the testator has declared or signified that this instrument is his testament and has signed it at the end and on each other separate page, and in the presence of the testator and each other we have hereunto subscribed our names this ____ day of ____, ____.’ ” In a nutshell, Ronnie’s will did not include that magic phrase. Instead it used a standardized phrase that looks word for word like the one I use in the wills I prepare, and which would have been fine in Arizona. But it was not the magic phrase, and two of the three Louisiana Supreme court judges found it was not “substantially similar” to the magic phrase.

So Ronnie’s doubly witnessed, notarized, clearly spelled out desire 6 months prior to his death to leave everything to his brother in law failed, the Will was found “absolutely null,” and whatever Ronnie had went to Ronnie’s next of kin (an uncle) instead. Probate law requires more than proof of what the deceased wanted. For example, if he had tried to leave a video will, it would have been equally null, both in Louisiana and Arizona. Moral of the story: make sure your estate plan is drafted by someone who knows the law. A pdf of the case is here: http://cases.justia.com/louisiana/supreme-court/2017-2016-c-1534.pdf?ts=1493838121