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Where all of a decedent's survivors belong to the same class, that of collateral relations, the person or persons nearest in degree takes the succession to the exclusion of the others. La. Civ. Code Ann. arts. 899, 900, 901. This person, who is called the legal heir, succeeds immediately upon the decedent's death, even before having accepted the succession or having been put in possession. La. Civ. Code Ann. arts. 940, 941. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 944 states: The heir being considered as having succeeded to the deceased from the instant of his death, the first effect of this right is that the heir transmits the succession to his own heirs, with the right of accepting or renouncing, although he himself have not accepted it, and even in case he was ignorant that the succession was opened in his favor.
The decedent was survived by collateral relations only. The decedent's half uncle was related to the decedent in the nearest degree, the third degree. After the half uncle died, his universal legatees sought to take the decedent's estate in his stead. The decedent's first cousins were related to the decedent in the fourth degree. The universal legatees filed a petition for declaratory judgment, seeking a declaration that the half uncle was related to the decedent in the nearest degree and that his right of succession was transmitted to his universal legatees. The trial court granted the judgment, and the first cousins appealed.
Did the trial court err in declaring the universal legatees to be the sole rightful heirs of the decedent?
The court affirmed and held that under La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 944, the half uncle was related to the decedent in the nearest degree at the time of her death. Thus, he became her sole heir and transmitted his rights of inheritance to his own heirs, the universal legatees.