Tennessee Supreme Court Clarifies Standards For Contesting A Will

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed previous rulings that dismissed a lawsuit contesting the October 1, 2013 Will (“2013 Will”) of Dr. J. Don Brock, a resident of Hamilton County. 

Dr. Brock died March 10, 2015, leaving a sizable estate. He is survived by his wife, seven children he and his former wife adopted, and two stepdaughters. Dr. Brock’s 2013 Will was admitted to probate court, and it divided his estate among his wife, his stepdaughters, and his eldest two children from his former marriage. The 2013 Will expressly excluded Dr. Brock’s five other children, and they brought a lawsuit contesting the will. 

After the lawsuit was filed, the executors of Dr. Brock’s estate produced copies of four earlier wills: (1) a 2012 Will; (2) a 2006 Will; (3) a 1998 Will; and (4) a 1994 Will.  The 2012 Will also excluded the five children, and on that basis, the executors argued that the excluded children lacked standing to challenge the 2013 Will because, even if the challenge was successful, they would gain nothing because the 2012 Will also disinherited them. In response, the excluded children asked for permission to expand their lawsuit to challenge all of the prior wills.  They argued that, while all of them were disinherited by the 2012 Will, only two of them were excluded under the 2006 and 1998 Wills and only one of them was excluded under the 1994 Will. As Dr. Brock’s children, all of them would inherit under the laws of intestacy should all of the wills be declared invalid. 

The probate court granted the executors’ motion to dismiss for lack of standing. It relied on two earlier decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court, which the probate court interpreted as holding that persons disinherited by successive wills lack standing to bring a lawsuit contesting the most recent will.  The Court of Appeals affirmed. 

The Supreme Court reversed, explaining that its earlier decisions were not controlling.  In those decisions, the persons bringing the will contests had been disinherited in two successive wills and the earlier will had already been held valid by admission or judicial decision.  The Supreme Court declined to adopt a broad rule precluding persons disinherited by successive wills from ever bringing a will contest.  Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that parties may establish standing to contest a will by showing that they would be entitled to share in the decedent’s estate if the challenged will, or challenged wills, were set aside or no will existed and the laws of intestacy applied.  Concluding that Dr. Brock’s excluded children had satisfied this standard, the Supreme Court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

To read the unanimous opinion in In re Estate of Brock, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.


Chattanooga Chamber Events For Dec. 10-14

Chattanooga Chamber Of Commerce MidTown Council To Host MidTown Business Fair On Dec. 12

Supreme Court Clarifies Release Eligibility For Defendant Convicted Of 1st-Degree Murder Committed On Or After July 1, 1995, Sentenced To Life In Prison


Here is the Chattanooga Business Calendar for Dec. 10-14: Dec. 11, Hixson Community Coffee 8-9 a.m. Life Care Center of Hixson: 5798 Hixson Home Place Join the Hixson Council for their ... (click for more)

The inaugural MidTown Business Fair, hosted by the Chattanooga Chamber’s MidTown Council and slated for Dec. 12, champions organizations in the MidTown footprint. Held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 ... (click for more)

In a case involving first-degree murder committed by a juvenile, the Tennessee Supreme Court has clarified that a defendant convicted of first-degree murder committed on or after July 1, 1995, ... (click for more)


Business

Chattanooga Chamber Events For Dec. 10-14

Here is the Chattanooga Business Calendar for Dec. 10-14: Dec. 11, Hixson Community Coffee 8-9 a.m. Life Care Center of Hixson: 5798 Hixson Home Place Join the Hixson Council for their monthly Council coffee. No cost. Dec. 12, Glenn Shepard Seminar: How to Supervise People and Lead a Team 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennessee Aquarium, River Journey Auditorium: 1 Broad St. ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Chamber Of Commerce MidTown Council To Host MidTown Business Fair On Dec. 12

The inaugural MidTown Business Fair, hosted by the Chattanooga Chamber’s MidTown Council and slated for Dec. 12, champions organizations in the MidTown footprint. Held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at SpareTime Entertainment ( 5518 Brainerd Rd.), attendees will enjoy a networking lunch and an opportunity to win one of two $25 gift cards. “There will truly be something for everyone ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Heavy Rains Continue For Chattanooga, While It's Not Cold Enough For Snow

Heavy rains continued in Chattanooga on Sunday, but temperatures did not drop low enough for the heavy snow that areas to the north and east received. The rain was bringing some minor flooding, especially in the Trenton and New England, Ga., areas and along Lookout Creek. South Chickamauga Creek was also rising, and was expected to exceed flood stage by late Sunday afternoon. ... (click for more)

County Schools Won't Give Information On Ooltewah High Rape Settlement, Attorney Charges

Hamilton County School officials say they won't give any information about the amount of money paid out to settle two lawsuits brought in Federal Court by students who were injured in the Ooltewah High rape incident. They also said they would not release the amount the county schools had to pay in legal expenses for defending the cases. Chattanoogan.com filed an Open Records ... (click for more)

Opinion

Eminent Domain And Property Taxes

There is understandable anger and resistance to TVA's sudden land grabbing in Meigs County. Surely the various governments in this area already own enough land to meet all their needs for a long time to come, and surely some of that land would be perfectly satisfactory for TVA's proposed new power center. But, as with the local animal welfare groups and their inability or unwillingness ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Quit Embarrassing Us

Ever since I got word that a new Publix grocery store will be built on South Broad Street I have been excited. And every time our city Zoning Appeals Board seemingly does everything within its power to kill the project it is increasingly an embarrassment, a kerfuffle that has no logical explanation and sadly kowtows to a small minority that is flat-out wrong. On Wednesday the ... (click for more)