Assigned on Briefs October 4, 2016
from the Chancery Court for Hawkins County No. 2015-PR-152
Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor
sister was appointed as executor of the estate and
subsequently filed a will contest complaint regarding a
single bequest in the will. The trial court removed sister as
executor and appointed an administrator pendente lite.
Ultimately, the trial court dismissed sister's will
contest on the basis that the sister was estopped from
attacking the will after her appointment as executor. Sister
appeals. We affirm the trial court's ruling with regard
to sister's standing to contest the will. However, we
vacate the trial court's dismissal of sister's will
contest on the basis of estoppel and remand for further
proceedings consistent with this Opinion. Affirmed in part,
vacated in part, and remanded.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed in part, Vacated in part, and Remanded
J. Fabus, Jr., Johnson City, Tennessee, for the appellant,
June Bostic Lane.
Russell W. Adkins, Kingsport, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Linda M. Mullins.
L. Robbins, Johnson City, Tennessee, for the appellee, Estate
of Ellra Donald Bostic.
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr. and Richard H.
Dinkins, JJ., joined.
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
22, 2015, Ellra Donald Bostic (the "Decedent")
executed a last will and testament ("the will"),
naming Appellant June Bostic Lane ("Contestant") as
executor.Under the terms of the will: (1)
Decedent's two grandsons were each to receive a monetary
sum of $500.00 per month for twenty-four months; (2) Appellee
Linda Mullins, Decedent's "friend, " was to
receive Decedent's house, the contents of the house, a
trailer, all camping equipment and accessories, and $25,
000.00; and (3) Contestant was to receive the residue of the
estate. The Decedent died on August 22, 2015, at the age of
seventy-two. On September 11, 2015, Contestant filed a sworn
complaint to probate the Decedent's will and to be
appointed executor of Decedent's estate ("the
Estate") without bond in the Probate Division of the
Hawkins County Chancery Court. On September 3, 2015, the
trial court entered an order admitting the will to probate,
directing that letters testamentary be issued to Contestant,
and waiving the requirement that Contestant file an inventory
or make accounting to the trial court as provided in
Tennessee Code Annotated section 30-2-301. On September 11,
2015, letters testamentary were issued to Contestant and
Contestant's "Oath of Execut[or]" was filed.
The Oath specifically stated that Contestant would
"honestly and faithfully discharge" her duties
"according to the terms of" Decedent's will.
December 2, 2015, Contestant filed a petition to contest
Decedent's will. Therein, Contestant alleged that Ms.
Mullins was the paramour of Decedent. According to
Contestant, however, Ms. Mullins fraudulently led Decedent to
believe that her husband was deceased. Contestant alleged
that this fraud, coupled with the confidential relationship
between Decedent and Ms. Mullins, Decedent's weakened
mental and physical condition, and Ms. Mullins involvement in
the creation of the will, established that the bequest to Ms.
Mullins was the product of undue influence. Although the
complaint did not allege fraud or undue influence against
either of Decedent's grandsons, it sought to set aside
the entire will.
about January 4, 2016, Ms. Mullins filed a motion to remove
Contestant as executor and to appoint an "Administrator
Pendente Lite" pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated
section 30-1-108. According to the motion, Contestant
allegedly "almost immediately" removed contents
from Decedent's home, refused to account for their
whereabouts, refused to communicate with Ms. Mullins as a
beneficiary under the will, filed a police report and posted
flyers in the neighborhood accusing Ms. Mullins of theft, and
claimed ownership of Decedent's tools. On or about the
same day, Ms. Mullins also filed an objection to
Contestant's notice of contest on the bases of standing
and two separate estoppel grounds: (1) that Contestant may
not receive benefits under the will and at the same time
attack it; and (2) that Contestant may not attack the will
that she had previously sworn to uphold. On January 5, 2016,
Contestant filed a motion to amend her will contest complaint
to correct the standing issue raised by Ms. Mullins;
specifically, Contestant sought to amend her will contest to
only contest the provision of the will naming Ms. Mullins as
beneficiary. Thereafter, Contestant also filed a response to
Ms. Mullins's objection to the will contest, denying the
material allegations contained therein. On January 12, 2015,
without objection by either party, the trial court granted
Contestant's motion to amend the will contest complaint,
granted Ms. Mullins's motion to remove Contestant as
executor and appoint an administrator pendente lite, and
appointed Appellee Attorney David Robbins as the
"Administrator C.T.A." ("the Estate, "
and, together with Ms. Mullins, "Appellees").
trial court held a hearing on the will contest on February 3,
2016. On February 19, 2016, the trial court entered its order
dismissing the will contest. First, the trial court found
that Contestant had standing to contest the gift to Ms.
Mullins because a successful contest could increase
Contestant's share as a residuary beneficiary under the
will. The trial court also found that Contestant need not
forfeit any benefits that she received under the will in
order to contest the will. The trial court, however, ruled that
Contestant was "estopped from contesting the will"
or any of its provisions after she introduced and affirmed
the Will, ...