IN RE: ESTATE OF J. DON BROCK
Session: September 13, 2016
Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hamilton County No.
15-P-245 Jeffrey M. Atherton, Chancellor
H. Summers and Marya Lyn Schalk, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and
William David Cunningham, Layfayette, Georgia, for the
appellants, Melissa Sue Brock Adcock, Krystal Gail Brock
Parker, Jennifer Rebecca Brock, Darryl William Brock, and
Walter Edward Brock.
Richard W. Bethea, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellees,
Sammye M. Brock, W. Norman Smith, and Estate of J. Don Brock.
Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Thomas R. Frierson, II,
BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE
Background and Procedural History
Contestants are five adopted children of J. Don Brock
("Mr. Brock") and Lynne Brock. The Brocks
previously adopted two other children, Benjamin Brock and
Elizabeth Brock, who are not parties to this will contest.
The Brocks divorced in 1993, and Mr. Brock married Sammye
Brock on July 4, 1998. Mr. Brock was diagnosed with
mesothelioma in May 2012 and died on March 10, 2015.
to his death, Mr. Brock executed a will on October 1, 2013
("2013 Will") naming Sammye Brock and W. Norman
Smith as co-executors of his estate ("The Estate")
and explicitly disinheriting each of the
Contestants. The Estate submitted Mr. Brock's 2013
Will for probate on March 31, 2015. The Contestants filed
their notice of will contest on September 3, 2015, alleging
improper execution, lack of testamentary capacity, and fraud
and/or undue influence. Specifically, the Contestants
challenged the authenticity of Mr. Brock's signature,
which appeared only on the last page of the will, and alleged
that Mr. Brock lacked testamentary capacity as a result of
his illness. Lastly, the Contestants alleged that Sammye
Brock committed fraud or exerted undue influence on Mr. Brock
by conspiring with her two children, among others, to deprive
the Contestants of their "rightful inheritances."
The Contestants noted that they were unaware of their
disinheritance under the 2013 Will until after Mr.
chancery court entered an agreed order on September 14, 2015,
stating that the Contestants had standing to challenge the
2013 Will and transferring the case to the circuit court.
However, the Estate filed a motion in the circuit court on
November 12, 2015, alleging that a newly discovered will
executed by Mr. Brock in 2012 ("2012 Will")
similarly disinherited all of the Contestants and seeking to
have the case transferred back to chancery court for a
determination of standing. The circuit court granted the
motion and transferred the case back to the chancery court on
November 24, 2015. On December 22, 2015, the Estate filed a
motion to amend or set aside the agreed order, alleging that
the 2012 Will disinherited all of the Contestants and that
the Contestants therefore lacked standing under Tennessee
The Contestants then filed a motion to amend their notice of
will contest on December 31, 2015, seeking to contest the
validity of the 2012 Will as well as additional wills dated
2006, 1998, and 1994. The Contestants noted that while none
of them would inherit under the 2012 Will, only two were
excluded under the 2006 and 1998 Wills and that only one
contestant was excluded under the 1994 Will. If all of the
wills were determined to be invalid, all of the Contestants
would inherit through intestate succession.
February 3, 2016, the chancery court heard the pending
motions and ruled that the Contestants did not have standing
to challenge the 2013 Will and, therefore, that the
Contestants' motion to amend their notice of will contest
was rendered moot. In its oral ruling, the chancery court
noted that it was "extremely troubled . . . that the
status of the Tennessee law in its current form is harsh[, ]
neither fair nor equitable, and promotes the potential for
fraud by simply creating two wills and [having] one insulate
the other." Nevertheless, the court determined that
under Cowan and Jennings, the Contestants
lacked standing to challenge the 2013 Will because the 2012
Will was facially valid, not challenged as being improperly
executed, and did not leave anything to the Contestants. The
Contestants then filed a motion seeking to have the chancery
court alter or amend its judgment, arguing that the court
improperly relied on a memorandum opinion, that the
court's reliance on Cowan and Jennings
was "inapplicable to this case's factual pattern,
" and that the Contestants discovered a Tennessee Court
of Appeals case they believed supported their position. The
chancery court heard argument on the motion on March 14, 2016
and entered an order denying the Contestants' motion on
March 22, 2016. The Contestants appealed.
Contestants present the following issues for review on
appeal, which we have slightly reworded:
I. Whether the trial court erred in granting the Estate's
motion to dismiss by relying on an unprobated will that is
alleged to have been a product of undue influence.
II. Whether the Appellants have a constitutional right under
both the Tennessee and United States constitutions to
challenge wills allegedly procured by fraud and undue
III. Whether the Limited Power of Appointment in the 2013 and
2012 wills conferred ...