ESTATE OF CHARLES ALLEN LANE ET AL.
AMANDA DAVENPORT COURTEAUX
Session January 17, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Rutherford County No. 14CV-27
Howard W. Wilson, Chancellor
had a life insurance policy in which she named her husband
and sister as beneficiaries. Upon her death, Decedent's
husband filed suit to recover the proceeds Decedent left to
her sister and place them in trust for the benefit of
Decedent's son, who was a minor at the time. The trial
court concluded the son was entitled to the proceeds based on
the theory of promissory estoppel. The sister appealed, and
we reverse the trial court's judgment. An insurance
policy is a contract between the insured and the insurance
company, and Decedent was entitled to designate whoever she
desired as a beneficiary of her policy. Evidence of
Decedent's intent with respect to the proceeds does not
deprive the named beneficiary of her right to the funds.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Reversed and Remanded
Kennerly Burger, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Amanda Davenport Courteaux.
Jackson, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the appellees, Estate
of Charles Allen Lane, David Kevin Sharp, Charles Ezra Lane,
and William Conner Lane.
D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Richard H. Dinkins and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.
D. BENNETT, JUDGE
Davenport Lane ("Ms. Lane" or the
"Decedent") and Charles Allen Lane were married and
had a son, Conner, who was born in 1997. Ms. Lane had a $600,
000 life insurance policy in which she initially designated
her husband as the sole beneficiary. When Conner was about
twelve years old, Ms. Lane was diagnosed with a terminal
cancer. A few weeks before her death, Ms. Lane added her
sister, Amanda Davenport Courteaux, as a co-beneficiary of
her life insurance policy. Ms. Lane designated Mr. Lane and Ms.
Courteaux to receive $300, 000 each upon her death.
Lane's husband received a diagnosis of terminal cancer
after his wife, and he was not expected to outlive Ms. Lane.
Ms. Lane died unexpectedly, without warning, in November
2013. Mr. Lane was unaware that his wife had added Ms.
Courteaux as a beneficiary until after Ms. Lane's death,
when he sought to collect the entire $600, 000 from the
insurance company. Mr. Lane believed that his wife left half
of the proceeds to her sister for the purpose of taking care
of Conner, who was then sixteen years old and on the verge of
having no living parents to take care of him. When Mr. Lane
became concerned that Ms. Courteaux was going to use the
insurance proceeds for purposes other than Conner's
welfare, he filed a complaint against Ms. Courteaux and
Protective Life Insurance Company, the company that issued
the life insurance policy at issue.
filed the complaint, Mr. Lane asked the trial court to issue
a temporary restraining order enjoining Ms. Courteaux from
spending or transferring any of the insurance proceeds until
the resolution of the case. The court issued the temporary
restraining order as requested. In the complaint, Mr. Lane
sought to have $270, 000 of the insurance proceeds payable to
Ms. Courteaux put into a trust for the benefit of
Conner.The legal theories Mr. Lane asserted to
justify this relief included breach of contract/reformation,
imposition of a constructive trust, promissory estoppel, and
trial took place on February 10, 2016. Mr. Lane died prior to
the trial, in September 2014, and his executors and estate
were duly substituted as parties in his place. The evidence
at trial consisted of testimony by Ms. Courteaux, Conner,
Conner's half-sister, Serita Lane, Conner's
grandmother, Elaine Davenport, and family friends. The
testimony was consistent that Conner was Ms. Lane's main
priority and the center of her life, and she wanted to be
sure he was taken care of after she and her husband died. Ms.
Courteaux testified that she and her sister, Ms. Lane, were
very close all their lives and that they both promised the
other to take care of the other's children if anything
ever happened to one of them. Before she died, Ms. Lane
informed Ms. Courteaux that "there would be money
available for [her] to take care of Conner with, " but
Ms. Courteaux did not know that she was a beneficiary of her
sister's life insurance policy until after Ms. Lane died.
Ms. Courteaux testified that she did not have any discussions
with her sister about insurance or any insurance proceeds.
document was introduced as "Exhibit 1" that was
identified as a page from a spiral notebook belonging to the
Decedent that contained handwriting by the Decedent. At the
top of the page, the Decedent wrote, "My wishes are as
follows, " and below that line she listed several names,
including Ms. Courteaux's and Elaine Davenport's. The
Decedent wrote dollar amounts next to most of these names.
Underneath the list of names she wrote: "Chuck Lane is
to oversee all my possessions and distribute them
accordingly." Ms. Courteaux testified that she did not
see this document, or know anything about it, until after the
Decedent died and Conner sent her a photograph of it.
response to the Estate's attorney's questions
regarding how she intended to use the money if the court were
to allow her to keep the proceeds, Ms. Courteaux testified as
A: If it's my money, what does it matter what I use it
. . . .
Q: So if I understand you, . . . if it's not my business,
it's not [Conner's] business either, right? So
it's not his business as to how you use this money?
A: That's my nephew and if he ever needed anything, I
would help him --
Q: If there's anything left - -
A: - - whether I get the money or ...