Happily Ever After: Eliminating the 890 Usufruct to Protect the Blended Family

Author:Katherine H. Dampf
Position:J.D./D.C.L. 2014, Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University
Pages:899-935
 
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Happily Ever After: Eliminating the 890 Usufruct to
Protect the Blended Family
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ............................................................................. 900
I. Succession Theories and the Stepfamily ................................ 903
A. The Theories Underlying Succession Law ...................... 904
1. The Natural Duty Theory ........................................... 904
a. The Natural Duty to the Decedent’s Children ..... 905
b. The Natural Duty to the Decedent’s
Surviving Spouse .................................................. 905
2. The Presumed Will Theory ........................................ 906
B. The Complications of the Stepfamily ............................... 906
1. The Blended Family ................................................... 907
2. The Complications of the Blended Family
Exacerbated in Intestate Succession ........................... 909
a. Unnatural Ties ...................................................... 909
b. Uncomfortable Conversations and Passive
Neglect .................................................................. 910
c. Conflicting Loyalties ............................................ 911
II. Louisiana’s Deficient Treatment of the Stepfamily
in Intestacy............................................................................... 912
A. The 890 Usufruct .............................................................. 912
1. The Historical Approach ............................................ 912
2. The 890 Usufruct Today ............................................. 914
B. The Inadequacies of the 890 Usufruct .............................. 916
1. The Inadequacies vis-à-vis the Stepfamily ................ 917
a. The Nature of the Usufruct: The Sharing of
Attributes of Ownership ....................................... 917
b. The Prudent Administrator Standard ................... 917
c. The Power of the Usufructuary to Dispose
of a Consumable Thing ........................................ 919
d. Security ................................................................. 920
e. Expenses ............................................................... 921
2. The Inadequacies of the 890 Usufruct vis-à-vis
the Theories of Succession ......................................... 922
900 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 74
a. The Shortfalls of the 890 Usufruct Under
the Natural Duty Theory ...................................... 922
i. The Natural Duty to the Decedent’s
Children ........................................................... 923
ii. The Natural Duty to the Surviving
Spouse ............................................................. 923
b. The Shortfalls of the Presumed Will Theory ....... 924
III. Other Approaches to the Cinderella Problem......................... 924
A. The Civilian Approach: What Has France Done? ........... 925
B. The United States .............................................................. 928
1. The Original Uniform Probate Code .......................... 928
2. The Revised Uniform Probate Code .......................... 929
3. The Influence of the Uniform Probate Code in the
United States ............................................................... 931
IV. Solution: Adopting the Lump-Sum-Plus-a-Fraction
Approach ................................................................................. 933
Conclusion ............................................................................... 935
INTRODUCTION
Cinderella lived happily ever after,1 but what became of her
wicked stepmother, the Lady Drizella Trumaine?2 Imagine that this
classic tale was set in Louisiana and that in the years following
Cinderella’s storybook wedding, Cinderella’s father and Drizella
spent the remainder of their lives together. Though they were happy,
they were not particularly wealthy, and Cinderella’s father never
drafted a will. When Cinderella’s father died, Louisiana law granted
Drizella an interest in his share of the marital property in the form of
a usufruct.3 However, although Drizella was relieved to learn that
she would be permitted to use and enjoy her husband’s property in
the years following his death, she was dismayed when she learned
that Louisiana law also granted Cinderella an interest in the same
Copyright 2014, by KATHERINE H. DAMPF.
1. CHARLES PERRAULT, PERRAULTS FAIRY TALES 56 (A. E. Johnson trans.,
2004).
2. CINDERELLA (Walt Disney Animation Studios 1950).
3. See LA. CIV. CODE art. 890 (2014) (providing that upon a spouse’s death,
the surviving spouse receives a usufruct over the deceased spouse’s one-half
interest in community property).
2014] COMMENT 901
property, effectively forcing Drizella to share her former husband’s
property with her ungrateful stepdaughter.4
One might imagine that this sharing of interests would not be the
most optimal arrangement, considering that the two did not have the
most natural and affectionate relationship.5 Drizella’s interest only
allows her the right to use the property and collect its fruits.6
Consequently, she may encounter financial difficulties if the
property does not generate income in the form of civil fruits—like
rents or dividends—because she is precluded from selling the
property to create liquid income. Given the tumultuous relationship
between Cinderella and her wicked stepmother, Cinderella would
feel no duty to come to Drizella’s aid. Indeed, Cinderella’s contempt
for Drizella might only be exacerbated by a legal scheme that
effectively deprives her of any right to her father’s estate while her
stepmother is still living and unmarried.7 Louisiana’s default
inheritance regime, designed both to approximate the will of the
decedent and provide for those left behind, serves no one in this
blended family.
A decedent who dies intestate—without a will—necessarily
does not express desires regarding the property left behind. Instead,
intestacy law imposes a “statutory will” on the decedent.8 Many
states have had to rethink traditional intestacy rules to address the
new social phenomenon of intestate succession involving a
stepparent and a decedent’s children,9 referred to in this Comment
4. See A. N. YIANN OPOULOS, PERSONAL SERVITUDES § 7:5, in 3 LOUISIANA
CIVIL LAW TREATISE 438 (5th ed. 2011) (explaining that “[t]he naked ownership
of the share of the deceased spouse devolves to his descendants by intestacy and
the surviving spouse obtains a legal usufruct over that share”).
5. See discussion in fra Part I.B.
6. As a usufructuary, Drizella would only be entitled to use and e njoy the
property as well as receive any civil or natural fruits from the property.
YIANNOPOULOS, supra note 4, § 2:2, at 111. The right to dispose or otherwise
alienate the property resides with the naked owner alone—in this case, Cinderella.
See id. § 5:3, at 341. For more on the governing features of the usufruct, see infra
Part II.A.2.
7. See infra Part II.A.2 (explaining that the legal scheme that arises by
operation of law terminates upon the earlier of death or r emarriage of the surviving
spouse).
8. Jennifer R. Boone Hargis, Note, Solving Injustice in Inheritance Laws
Through Judicial Discretion: Common Sense Solutions from Common Law
Tradition, 2 WASH. U. GLOBAL STUD. L. REV. 447, 449 (2003). See also Susan N.
Gary, Adapting Intestacy Laws to Changing Families, 18 LAW & INEQ. 1, 1 (2000)
(describing a “statutory will” as one in which “the government, rather than the
individual, determines the dispositive ter ms”).
9. See, e.g., Lawrence H. Averill, Jr. & Ellen B. Brantley, A Comparison of
Arkansas’s Current Law Concerning Succession, Wills, and Other Donative
Transfers with Article II of the 1990 Uniform Probate Code, 17 U. ARK. LITTLE

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