Monday, March 9, 2015
In a case of first impression the Mississippi Supreme Court’s recent decision in Parker v. Benoist, No. 2012-CA02010-SCT (February 19, 2015), held that in terrorem clauses are unenforceable when a will contest has been brought in good faith and based upon probable cause.
Brownyn and William Benoist are siblings who litigated the will of their father, Billy Dean “B.D.” Benoist, in the Chancery Court of Yalobusha County. In 2010, B.D. executed a will that significantly altered the distributions provided by a previous will that B.D. had executed in 1998. Bronwyn alleged that William had unduly influenced their father, who was suffering from dementia and drug addiction, into making the new will, which included a forfeiture clause that revoked benefits to any named beneficiary who contested the will. Bronwyn lost the will contest and her benefits under the new will were revoked by the trial court. In the appeal, the court determined whether Mississippi law should recognize a good-faith and probable-cause exception to a forfeiture in terrorem clause in a will. The court held that it should, and that Bronwyn had sufficiently shown that her suit was brought in good faith and was founded upon probable cause.
Special thanks to Brandon C. Dixon for bringing this article to my attention.