Session February 15, 2017
from the Probate Court for Shelby County No. D-16788 Karen D.
appeal involves a challenge to certain decisions made by the
probate court pursuant to a petition to ratify the decisions
of the estate's executor. Although we affirm the probate
court's determination that a $250, 000.00 debt once owed
to the decedent is now extinguished and also affirm its
determination that a certain annuity policy should be
transferred to the estate, we reverse the probate court's
determination that insurance policies owned by the decedent
at her death should be transferred to her grandchildren.
Further, we reverse the trial court's order to the extent
that it directs two other annuity policies to be directed to
the decedent's grandchildren. These other two annuities
are also assets of the estate that are subject to
distribution in accordance with the decedent's will.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Probate
Court Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Remanded
T. Autry and Hannah E. Bleavins, Memphis, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Marvin Ray Spears, II.
C. Wagner, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Micah Britt
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE
and Procedural History
8, 2013, Virginia L. Spears died in Memphis, Tennessee, at
ninety years of age. She was survived by two sons, the
Appellant Marvin Ray Spears, II ("Ray"), and the
Appellee Micah Britt Spears
("Britt"). Shortly after his mother's death, on
August 21, 2013, Ray filed a petition in the Shelby County
Probate Court seeking to admit his mother's last will and
testament to probate. A copy of the will, which was attached
to Ray's petition, indicated that Ray and Britt were to
share equally in Ms. Spears's residuary estate. The will
also included a provision appointing Ray as the executor of
Ms. Spears's estate. Following the filing of Ray's
petition, on August 23, 2013, the probate court admitted the
will to probate and issued him letters testamentary.
administration of Ms. Spears's estate progressed, Ray
filed a petition on September 22, 2015, wherein he asked the
probate court to ratify a number of decisions pertaining to
certain estate assets. As is relevant to this appeal, the
petition asserted that Britt remained in debt to the estate
due to his previous execution of a $250, 000.00 promissory
note in Ms. Spears's favor. In addition to this debt
issue, Ray's petition alerted the trial court to an issue
concerning certain life insurance policies that Ms. Spears
had taken out on two of Britt's children (the
"Grandchildren"). Although Britt was apparently
maintaining that these life insurance policies should be
given to the Grandchildren, the petition noted that the
policies at issue did not name a beneficiary. As such, the
petition averred that the estate was the rightful owner of
October 23, 2015, Britt filed a response to Ray's
petition. Therein, Britt maintained that the balance
of his $250, 000.00 debt had been forgiven. With respect to
the insurance policies, Britt asserted that the Grandchildren
should be named as owners of the policies that had been taken
out on their respective lives. A hearing on these issues, and
others, was later held on December 10, 2015.
two months later, on February 16, 2016, the probate court
entered an order concerning the proof presented at the
December 10, 2015 hearing. Although the probate court began
by concluding that there was sufficient evidence to establish
that a $250, 000.00 debt had once been owed by Britt to his
mother, the court determined that this debt had been
extinguished. With respect to the insurance policies in
dispute, the probate court concluded that the Grandchildren
"should be named as the owner of the policy on their
conclusion of its order, the probate court also dealt with
certain annuities that had not been averred in the pleadings
but had been raised by Ray during the December 10, 2015
hearing and fully discussed by both sides and the court.
Although these annuities were listed in Ray's name and
had never been owned by his mother,  the probate court directed
Ray to transfer them to the estate and the
Grandchildren. This timely appeal then
brief on appeal, Ray raises four issues for our review, which
we have slightly reworded as follows:
1. Whether the probate court properly determined that Ms.
Spears forgave the $250, 000.00 promissory note.
2. Whether the probate court properly ordered the life
insurance policies to be transferred to the Grandchildren.
3. Whether the probate court properly exercised jurisdiction
over the annuity policies.
4. Whether the probate court exceeded the scope of the
pleadings when it issued its February 16, 2016 order.
reviewing the trial court's factual findings, our
standard of review "is de novo upon the record
with a presumption of correctness as to the trial court's
findings of fact, unless the preponderance of the evidence is
otherwise." Ramsay v. Custer, 387 S.W.3d 566,
568 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012) (citation omitted). "For the
evidence to preponderate against a trial court's finding
of fact, it must support another finding of fact with greater
convincing effect." Watson v. Watson, 196
S.W.3d 695, 701 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005) (citations omitted).
When an issue for decision depends on the determination of
the credibility of witnesses, "the trial court is the
best judge of the credibility and its findings of credibility
are entitled to great weight." Royal Ins. Co. v.
Alliance Ins. Co., 690 S.W.2d 541, 543 (Tenn. Ct. App.
1985). Indeed, "[u]nlike appellate courts, trial courts
are able to observe witnesses as they testify and to assess
their demeanor[.]" Wells v. Tenn. Bd. of
Regents, 9 S.W.3d 779, 783 (Tenn. 1999) (citations
omitted). On appeal, we will not overturn a trial court's
assessment of credibility absent clear and convincing
evidence to the contrary. Regions Bank v. Bric
Constructors, LLC, 380 S.W.3d 740, 760 (Tenn. Ct. App.
2011) (citation omitted). In contrast to our review of the
trial court's findings of fact, we afford no presumption
of correctness to the trial court's legal conclusions.
In re Estate of Ledford, 419 S.W.3d 269, 277 (Tenn.
Ct. App. 2013) (citation omitted).
address Ray's issues in the order that he presents them
in his brief on appeal. As such, we turn first to his
arguments concerning the $250, ...