Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Article on In Re Estate of Brown


Lee T. Nutini (Candidate for Doctor of Jurisprudence, University of Tennessee College of Law, May 2015) recently published an article entitled, Estate, Gift and Trust Law-Joint and Mutual Wills-Proper Jurisdictional Vehicles for Contract-Based Mutual Wills Claims, 80 Tenn. L. Rev. 883 (Summer 2013).  Provided below is the introduction: 

Roy E. Brown Jr. and Ina Ruth Brown, two divorcees, married in the early 1980s. Both had adult children from their previous marriages. In 1982, the Browns entered into an agreement to create a tenancy by the entireties for Mrs. Brown's Irolla Road property. For the majority of their marriage, however, the couple lived in a house built by Roy Brown III located on Brown Gap Road in Knoxville. Because of Mr. Brown's health problems, Mr. and Mrs. Brown signed a contract to make mutual wills in October 1999. Each of them also executed a will at that time.

In April 2002, Mr. Brown's health problems became more severe, requiring his son Roy Brown III and his wife to move into the Brown Gap Road residence to care for him. The next month, the Browns executed a warranty deed conveying the Brown Gap Road property to Roy Brown III and his wife. On June 13, 2002, the Browns signed a new contract to make mutual wills, signing and executing their new wills simultaneously. In the contract, Mr. and Mrs. Brown agreed to relinquish their rights to change their wills as well as their rights to dispose of the property in any manner except as permitted by the other's will. Several days later, on June 19, 2002, Roy Brown Jr. died while Mrs. Brown was in the hospital. Upon her release, Mrs. Brown refused to return to the Brown Gap Road residence because of a dispute between her son, Rockford Estes, and Roy Brown III. On June 28, 2002, just nine days after Mr. Brown's death, Mrs. Brown, unbeknownst to any of her husband's children, executed a new will that directed her entire estate to her son, Rockford Estes. Mrs. Brown ultimately died on February 1, 2003.

On March 25, 2003, Mr. Estes filed a petition to probate his mother's June 28, 2002 will in the Knox County Chancery Court. When Mr. Brown's children attempted to probate Mrs. Brown's June 13 will, they became aware of the existence of the current probate of the subsequent June 28 will. On February 10, 2004, Mr. Brown's children filed a complaint contesting the June 28 will-which was still currently in probate with the Knox County Chancery Court-seeking a declaratory judgment that the June 13 contract to make mutual wills was valid and enforceable. Mr. Estes then moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear a will contest based on the allegedly breached June 13 contract to make mutual wills.

The trial court determined that its subject matter jurisdiction was proper on the breach of contract to make mutual wills claim and declared that Mrs. Brown's June 28 will was null and void. On appeal, Mr. Estes challenged the trial court's decision that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the will contest of Mr. Brown's children based on an alleged breach of contract. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant's motion for summary judgment and that the trial court had proper subject matter jurisdiction over the will contest based on a breach of contract claim. On grant of Mr. Estes's application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, held, affirmed.

The challenge to Ina Brown's June 28 will by Roy Brown Jr.'s children was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (1) no genuine disputes of material fact existed; (2) the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over the will contest claims; (3) Roy Brown Jr.'s children's complaint was timely filed; and (4) the June 13 contract for mutual wills was supported by adequate consideration. In re Estate of Brown, 402 S.W.3d 193 (Tenn. 2013).


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