A state appeals court has breathed new life into a legal challenge to the last will that auto sales mogul Ray Brandt signed weeks before his death in 2019, removing his widow, Jessica Brandt, from scrutiny. an empire of dealers spanning two states. .
A 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled this week that Todd Dempster, COO of Ray Brandt Auto Group, has the legal capacity to challenge Brandt’s will, although he is not an heir or a parent. Barring an appeal, the decision removes a significant legal hurdle for Jessica Brandt in a yearlong succession struggle against her two grandchildren, Alexis and Zachary Hartline, and Marc Milano, principal of Archbishop Rummel high school.
Ray Brandt named Milano trustee in the will he signed before his death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 72. In that role, Milano would replace Jessica Brandt, currently CEO of the automotive group, overseeing 15 dealerships and half a dozen collision centers across Louisiana and Mississippi, through a trust that Ray Brandt created to own. the assets of his estate after his death.
Under one of the three wills in play, Jessica Brandt will receive income from the estate during her lifetime, but upon her death the trust dissolves and the Hartlines share the assets. In the meantime, she insisted that the 2019 be rejected while avoiding a “no-contest” clause that could threaten the massive income stream he left her from an estate valued at over $ 300 million.
Louisiana Supreme Court hits widow Jessica Brandt in battle for Ray Brandt’s succession
At Jessica Brandt’s request, 24th Judicial District Judge Lee Faulkner Jr. agreed earlier this year to choose from three wills left by Ray Brandt. Faulkner discovered that Brandt’s probated will in 2019, and one he signed in 2015, both contained a fatal flaw in the way they were notarized. This left a will from 2010, appointing Jessica Brandt as trustee. But an appeals court dismissed Faulkner’s ruling, saying he needed a “direct” challenge to launch the 2019 will.
Meanwhile, Dempster claimed he had the right to challenge it, since Brandt had named him acting executor in his 2010 will. Faulkner denied Dempster’s challenge, but the appeals court had him. again overturned. In an opinion from 5th Circuit Judge Hans Liljeberg, the court noted that Dempster would potentially be paid 2.5% of the estate’s value as executor, or several million dollars. This gave him enough “justiciable interest” to challenge Brandt’s will, the court ruled.
“Obviously we are happy with the decision and intend to go ahead and re-launch our petition to quash the 2019 will,” said Philip Franco, Dempster’s attorney at the law firm. Adams and Reese.
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Milan attorney Tim Madden said he was considering an appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
“We maintain that our legal position is correct and that Mr. Brandt’s last will will ultimately be determined to be valid,” Madden said. “Our goal remains to make Mr. Brandt’s last wishes come true.”
David Sherman, attorney for Jessica Brandt, argued that Ray Brandt never intended to assign control of the concessions to Milano, but only to place him in a formal role of family counselor. Sherman said that while they were happy with the decision, “our goal is, as it always has been, to resolve this dispute.”
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A Louisiana Supreme Court decision this year looms above the fight, in which a narrow majority of courts have moved away from strict adherence to “formalities” in notarizing wills, emphasizing wishes of the deceased.
Randy Smith, an attorney for the Hartlines, said there were “numerous witnesses” to Ray Brandt’s 2019 signing who can testify that it was legally signed in front of a notary and two witnesses.
“The Hartlines are confident that if this matter is to be pursued, the 2019 Testament will be upheld regardless of who disputes it,” Smith said in a statement. “Ultimately, Ray Brandt’s heirs hope there will be a sensible resolution that honors his last wishes and protects the best interests of family, dealers and their loyal customers.”