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In re Estate of Roggli

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

September 28, 2017

IN RE ESTATE OF RUBY C. ROGGLI, ET AL.

          August 15, 2017 Session

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Franklin County No. 19998 Justin C. Angel, Judge No. M2016-02562-COA-R3-CV

         Decedent's nephews by marriage filed a petition seeking to recognize and establish a copy of a lost will as Decedent's last will and testament. The trial court determined that the will was still in existence at the time Decedent lost testamentary capacity, and that Decedent did not have exclusive access and control of her will. Appellants appeal the trial court's order establishing the lost will. Discerning no error, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin and Brandon O. Gibson, JJ., joined.

          Jerre M. Hood, Winchester, Tennessee, for the appellants, Lanelle Clark Harrison, Janet Jullian, Charlotte Reynolds, and Colleen Sylvester.

          Trudy McKelvey Edwards, Winchester, Tennessee, for the appellees, Estate of Ruby C. Roggli, Larry Shockley, Carl Spray, Charles Kent Clark, Jeff Clark, and Melissa Harrell.

          OPINION

          KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE

         I. Background

         On February 27, 2007, Ruby C. Roggli ("Decedent") executed a last will and testament. The will provided for all personalty, excluding her jewelry and farm machinery, to pass to her sister, Lanelle Harrison, and to her nephew, Charles Kent Clark. The will further provided for her jewelry to pass to her nieces, Janet Julian and Charlotte Reynolds. The remainder of her estate, including her farm and farm machinery, were devised to her nephews on her husband's side, Larry Shockley and Carl Spray (together "Appellees"). At the time of her death, Decedent was a widow with no children. Her heirs were her two surviving sisters, Lannelle Clark Harrison and Colleen Sylvester; two nephews, Charles Clark Kent and Jeff Clark; and three nieces, Melissa Harrell, Janet Julian, and Charlotte Reynolds. The Appellants in this case are Ms. Harrison, Ms. Sylvester, Ms. Julian, and Ms. Reynolds.

         Mrs. Roggli and her husband inherited the farm from Mr. Roggli's parents. During his life, Mr. Roggli had a close relationship with Appellees. Prior to Mr. Roggli's death, Appellees assisted the Rogglis in working the farm and maintaining the property. After Mr. Roggli died in 2007, Mr. Shockley and his wife visited Mrs. Roggli every day until her death in 2015. Mrs. Roggli did not want a caretaker in her home and did not want to spend the night alone, so Appellees alternated nights so that she was never home alone at night. The Shockleys provided Mrs. Roggli lunch and dinner every day, assisted her in paying her bills and maintaining her property, and generally provided for all of her needs.

         Mrs. Roggli had a large safe in her dining room where she kept all of her important papers including her will. The last time her will was physically seen was in approximately 2012, when Mrs. Roggli showed it to her sister, Ms. Harrison; after showing it to Ms. Harrison, Mrs. Roggli put the will back in the safe. At this time, Ms. Harrison noted that her sister's behavior was different. Specifically, Ms. Harrison stated that Decedent seemed like she just "wanted to die." Mrs. Roggli's physical and mental health continued to deteriorate after her sister's visit. In February 2015, after a series of falls, Mrs. Roggli moved into a nursing home. A petition to appoint a conservator was filed, and, in May 2015, without objection, Ms. Betty Shockley was appointed as Decedent's conservator. Mrs. Roggli died on July 15, 2015.

         Decedent consistently and repeatedly expressed, to her friend and longtime legal advisor, Judge Thomas Faris, her desire that her real property pass to the Appellees and that her personalty pass to the Appellants. During her mental decline, and even after her death, several of Decedent's family members had access to her home and the safe where the will was kept. After an exhaustive search, the original will, which Decedent signed in 2007, was not located after she died.

         On August 18, 2015, Appellees filed a petition to recognize and establish the lost will. Appellants filed an answer, and the matter proceeded to trial on October 3, 2016. Immediately prior to the hearing, the parties stipulated that the only issue was "whether said last will and testament dated February 27, 2007, has been revoked." The trial court determined that the will was still in existence at the time Decedent lost testamentary capacity and that Decedent did not have exclusive access and control of her will at the end of her life. On November 16, 2016, the trial court entered a ...


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