Bitter Ray Brandt succession battle finally settles; here's who will control massive estate
Mar 22, 2023

On Behalf of Smith & Fawer, L.L.C. | Mar 22, 2023 | Trusts, Estates & Succession

The long-running succession drama over the estate of auto dealership mogul Ray Brandt has ended in a deal, more than three years after his death.

Brandt’s widow, Jessica Brandt, and her two grandchildren reached a settlement Tuesday to her as chief executive of Ray Brandt Auto Group, according to a joint statement.

But Marc Milano, principal of Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, will control an estate valued at more than $300 million as trustee.

And a bitter challenge to the last will and testament that Ray Brandt signed in November 2019, weeks before his death from pancreatic cancer, is going away. That document jettisoned Jessica Brandt as trustee of his estate, handing the keys instead to Milano to oversee, among other assets, 14 auto dealerships and 5 collision centers in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The settlement ends a legal battle that pitted Jessica Brandt against her grandchildren, Alexis and Zachary Hartline, along with Milano.

Ray Brandt was childless when he died at age 72. He adopted the Hartlines as adults shortly before his death, making them his heirs as a result.

Under any scenario, Ray Brandt directed that his assets go into a trust to be split by the Hartlines in 2030, when the youngest, Alexis, turns 30. He also called for Jessica Brandt, 72, to receive the income from his estate while she's alive.

The dispute featured allegations of financial chicanery against Jessica Brandt, who in turn sued Milano for defamation. She also filed papers at one point to evict the Hartlines from the Old Metairie compound where they'd all lived for years.

Attorneys for all sides announced a pending settlement last summer, but it collapsed.

In October, Judge Lee Faulkner Jr. of the 24th Judicial District Court held a hearing and then threw out a challenge, filed by Todd Dempster, chief operating officer of Ray Brandt Auto Group, to Brandt's 2019 will.

Jessica Brandt steered clear of directly challenging her husband’s will, which contains a “no contest” clause. Still, she admitted in testimony that she bankrolled Dempster’s challenge using succession money.

Dempster alleged that Brandt’s 2019 will had a fatal flaw: a bogus attestation clause. Faulkner at first agreed, but he reversed his ruling based on a recent shift by a Louisiana Supreme Court majority in its view of technical flaws in wills.

Although Dempster appealed Faulkner’s denial, the appeal will be dismissed under Tuesday's agreement.

“All parties involved are pleased with the opportunity to move forward together and continue to grow the successes built by the late Ray Brandt,” the joint statement read.

Dempster’s name is absent from the statement. But his attorney, Philip Franco, said Wednesday he agreed with it. The parties would not disclose further details of the deal.

The announcement of the settlement came four days after Brandt’s estate sold Pascal’s Manale, the famed 110-year-old Creole-Italian eatery on Napoleon Avenue in Uptown New Orleans, for $3.85 million to the restaurant group Dickie Brennan & Co.

Ray Brandt bought the restaurant in his waning days.