IN RE: ESTATE OF J. DON BROCK
Session September 6, 2017
by Permission from the Court of Appeals Chancery Court for
Hamilton County No. 15-P-245 Jeffrey M. Atherton, Chancellor.
granted permission to appeal to determine whether the
contestants-five of the decedent's seven children-have
standing to bring this will contest. The contestants were
expressly disinherited by a will dated October 1, 2013, and
admitted to probate and by a prior will, dated October 11,
2012, produced during this litigation. The trial court
dismissed this will contest for lack of standing, concluding
that two prior decisions of this Court-Cowan v.
Walker, 96 S.W. 967 (Tenn. 1906) and Jennings v.
Bridgeford, 403 S.W.2d 289 (Tenn. 1966)-required the
dismissal. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Although we agree
with the courts below that Cowan and
Jennings include imprecise language that could be
viewed as establishing a broad, bright-line rule that persons
disinherited by facially valid successive wills lack
standing, we conclude that those decisions are factually
distinct and did not announce such a broad rule. We reaffirm
the general rule, long recognized in Tennessee, that to
establish standing a contestant must show that he or she
would be entitled to share in the decedent's estate if
the will were set aside or if no will existed. The
contestants here have satisfied this requirement by showing
that they would share in the decedent's estate under the
laws of intestacy and under prior wills. Thus, the judgments
of the trial court and Court of Appeals dismissing this will
contest for lack of standing are reversed, and this matter is
remanded to the trial court for further proceedings
consistent with this decision.
R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgments of the Court of
Appeals and Trial Court Reversed; Case Remanded
H. Summers and Marya Lyn Schalk, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and
William David Cunningham, Lafayette, 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, Jennifer Kent Exum, Cameron A. Kapperman,
Nathan L. Kinard, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellees,
Sammye M. Brock and W. Norman Smith, Co-Executors of the
Estate of J. Don Brock.
R. Branson, Memphis, Tennessee, for the amici curiae, Brenda
Dattel Meece and Lisa Ann Dattel.
W. Bussart, Lewisburg, Tennessee, for the amicus curiae,
David Edmundson Rackley.
W. Secor, Hixson, Tennessee, amicus curiae.
Cornelia A. Clark, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., and Sharon G. Lee, Holly
Kirby, and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.
CORNELIA A. CLARK, JUSTICE.
Don Brock ("Dr. Brock"), a resident of Hamilton
County, Tennessee, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in May
2012, and died on March 10, 2015, leaving a sizeable
estate. Dr. Brock was survived by his spouse, Mrs.
Sammye Sprouse Brock ("Mrs. Brock"), by his seven
children that he and his former wife adopted during their
marriage of more than thirty years, five of whom were
biological siblings, and by his two stepdaughters, Mrs.
Brock's children from a prior marriage.
March 31, 2015, Dr. Brock's attorney filed a petition in
the Chancery Court of Hamilton County ("Probate
Court") for testate administration of Dr.
Brock's October 1, 2013 Will ("2013 Will"). In
accordance with paragraph two of the 2013 Will, the Probate
Court named Mrs. Brock and W. Norman Smith as co-executors of
Dr. Brock's estate (collectively "Proponents"),
and letters testamentary were issued to them on April 6,
2013 Will divided Dr. Brock's estate ("Estate")
among Mrs. Brock, Dr. Brock's stepdaughters, Christie
Sprouse Gleeson and Devin LeAnn Sprouse, and Dr. Brock's
eldest two children from his first marriage-Elizabeth Foster
Brock and Benjamin Garrison Brock. The 2013 Will expressly
excluded Dr. Brock's five other children from his first
marriage-biological siblings Walter Edward Brock, Jennifer
Rebecca Brock, Darryl William Brock, Melissa Sue Brock
Adcock, and Krystal Gayle Brock Parker (collectively
"Contestants"). As for the Contestants, the 2013
Will treated them as "having predeceased [Dr. Brock]
without surviving descendants."
September 3, 2015, the Contestants filed a notice of will
contest as to the 2013 Will, alleging improper execution or
attestation, 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 2013 Will, alleging that Mrs.
Brock had signed Dr. Brock's name for decades, having
worked at Astec Industries as his receptionist and assistant
for twenty years before their marriage in 1998. The
Contestants further alleged that the attesting witnesses to
the 2013 Will "were not disinterested witnesses"
but were officers or employees of Astec Industries with a
financial interest in the company. The Contestants pointed
out that the first twenty-four pages of the 2013 Will were
not signed or initialed, including the pages that
disinherited the Contestants. The Contestants also averred
that Dr. Brock lacked testamentary capacity, stating that the
2013 Will had purportedly been prepared and signed more than
a year after Dr. Brock had been diagnosed with mesothelioma
in 2012 and after he had undergone aggressive treatments for
the disease. Lastly, the Contestants alleged fraud and undue
influence. The Contestants claimed that Mrs. Brock as well as
Elizabeth and Benjamin Brock had confidential relationships
with Dr. Brock and used their relationships to exert undue
influence over him in the procurement of the 2013 Will. The
Contestants claimed that Mrs. Brock had been Dr. Brock's
mistress, receptionist, and assistant for approximately
twenty-four years before their 1998 marriage. After the
marriage, the Contestants claimed, Mrs. Brock acted to
isolate Dr. Brock from the Contestants and interfere with
their ability to see or speak with him. The Contestants
alleged that Mrs. Brock had fraudulently conspired with her
own daughters, with Benjamin and Elizabeth Brock, and ...