During his lifetime, former Governor Edwin Edwards was a legend. In death, he is also likely to become a legend in Louisiana law circles for at least one reason. That reason is Louisiana’s forced heirship laws.
Almost everyone living in Louisiana has heard that our laws are much different than the laws of the other 49 states and forced heirship is one of those big differences. Beginning with Louisiana’s adoption of Napoleon’s Code of Laws in the 1800s, forced heirship has been a part of Louisiana’s inheritance or succession law. But what is forced heirship?
Forced heirship is a requirement that parents must leave a certain portion of their estates to their children even if they don’t want to. When forced heirship began in Louisiana, every child was a forced heir and entitled to a portion of their parents’ estate. The percentage they were entitled to depended on the number of children the parent had.
In the 1990s, there was a push to change this law and in 1996, a constitutional amendment was adopted that limited forced heirs to those who are under the age of 24 or who are of any age but because of a mental incapacity or physical impairment are permanently incapable of caring for their persons or administering their estates at the time of their parent’s death.
When former Governor Edwin Edwards passed away in July of 2021, he had a son, Eli, who was 7 years old. By law, his son was a forced heir, and entitled by law to a portion of his father’s estate. The forced heirship law provides if there is one forced heir, that heir must receive at least one-fourth of his parent’s estate. If there are two or more forced heirs, the forced heirs are entitled to one-half of the parent’s estate, split equally between them. Clearly, Eli Edwards is entitled to at least one-fourth of his father’s estate because of his age.
Purportedly, Edwin Edwards had a handwritten will that left his entire estate to Eli. This would have fulfilled the forced heirship requirement that if there is one forced heir, the heir must receive at least one-fourth of the parent’s estate. I use the word “purportedly” because on December 20, 2021, Victoria Edwards, a child from former Governor Edwards’ first marriage, filed a lawsuit alleging that she is also a forced heir and entitled to a portion of her father’s estate. The allegations in the lawsuit claim she suffers from mental health issues (including bipolar disorder) and that she is unable to care for her person and her estate. She also alleges in her lawsuit that her father had an olographic or handwritten will leaving his entire estate to Eli, although at the time of the writing of this article, the purported will has not been presented to the court for probate.
To determine if Victoria Edwards is a forced heir, there will have to be a trial where she presents evidence to support her allegations that she suffers from mental health issues and is unable to care for her person and her estate. Should she be successful in that trial, she will also be a forced heir and she and Eli will each be entitled to one-fourth of their father’s estate.
Of course, it’s very early in the litigation and anything could happen. There may be another will be presented for probate, the handwritten will may or may not prove to be valid or the parties may settle their claims before trial. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it will be interesting to watch.
Of course, with proper estate planning, former Governor Edwards could likely have avoided most of these problems for his family. Stay tuned to learn more about this case and more about forced heirship in Louisiana.
The information provided is not intended to be legal or tax advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lake Charles, LA. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027.