Session April 10, 2019
from the Probate Court for Shelby County No. PR-10785 Karen
D. Webster, Judge
Decedent's Mother was appointed personal representative
of Decedent's estate without notice to Decedent's
spouse or minor child. Spouse promptly filed a petition to
remove Decedent's mother as personal representative. The
trial court granted the petition and named the guardian ad
litem of the child as personal representative of the estate.
Discerning no error, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Probate
Chastity Sharp Grice, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant,
T. Autry and Steven N. Snyder, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee, for
the appellee, Hannah E. Bleavins.
Steven Stafford, P. J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Arnold B. Goldin and Kenny Armstrong, JJ.,
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
a dispute regarding the proper administrator of an estate
between Appellant Sherry Jones and Appellee Hannah E.
Bleavins ("GAL Bleavins"), Successor Personal
Representative of the Estate of Danté Lamar Edmonds
("Decedent"). Decedent passed away on February 21,
2018. Decedent's funeral occurred on or
about March 3, 2018. On March 6, 2018, Decedent's mother,
Ms. Jones, filed a verified petition to open Decedent's
estate and to be named as the estate's personal
representative. The petition noted that Decedent died
intestate. Among the assets listed in Decedent's estate
were limited personal property and a wrongful death cause of
petition further alleged that Decedent had two heirs, a wife,
Raven Edmonds, and a minor daughter, Kylie Edmonds
("Daughter"). Ms. Jones asked to be named personal
representative of the estate "[f]or want of application
by the spouse[.]" The petition noted, however, that no
notice had been sent to these heirs "consistent with the
provisions of" Tennessee Code Annotated section
30-1-117(b) and that Ms. Jones was proceeding pursuant
to Tennessee Code Annotated section
20-5-106(c)(3). Moreover, the petition alleged that
Decedent and Mrs. Edmonds had been separated for a period of
more than two years and that there was good cause to excuse
notifying Mrs. Edmonds.
March 7, 2018, the Shelby County Probate Court ("the
trial court") entered an order opening Decedent's
estate and naming Ms. Jones as personal representative,
finding that Ms. Jones is "a person entitled to serve as
Personal Representative under" Tennessee Code Annotated
March 16, 2018, Mrs. Edmonds, both on her own behalf and as
the legal and natural guardian of Daughter, filed a verified
petition to remove Ms. Jones as personal representative of
the estate. Mrs. Edmonds alleged that despite attending
Decedent's funeral three days prior to filing her
petition, Ms. Jones provided Mrs. Edmonds and Daughter with
no formal or informal notice of her intent to open
Decedent's estate. In addition, Mrs. Edmonds alleged that
Ms. Jones was not qualified to serve as personal
representative because (1) Mrs. Edmonds, as Decedent's
spouse, had priority under section 30-1-106 to seek
administration of the estate (2) there had been insufficient
time to determine if there was "want of application . .
. upon the part of the spouse" so that administration
could fall to next of kin; (3) under intestacy rules, Ms.
Jones was simply not "next of kin" qualified to
administer the estate under section 30-1-106; (4) Ms. Jones
failed to notify Mrs. Edmonds of her intent to open the
estate pursuant to local rules; and (5) in seeking this
action without notice, Ms. Jones was acting in a
"hostile" and "deceitful" manner.
Jones filed a response to the petition to remove her as
personal representative, generally denying that she had acted
inappropriately in her petition to open the estate or in
being named personal representative. A hearing was held on
June 28, 2018. No evidence was presented as the parties
asserted that the matter was a purely legal issue. Counsel
for Mrs. Edmonds noted without dispute that in the interim
between the filing of the verified petition to remove Ms.
Jones and the hearing, a guardianship had been opened for
Daughter in the trial court in a separate proceeding; GAL
Bleavins had been named the child's guardian ad
litem. According to counsel, the order of
guardianship had become final. During the hearing, Ms. Jones
argued that the proper focus was not whether another party
had a statutory preference to serve as administrator under
section 30-1-106, but whether she could be removed as
administrator pursuant to the statutes concerning that issue,
particularly Tennessee Code Annotated section 35-15-706.
Because she committed no wrongdoing in the administration of
the estate, Ms. Jones argued that removal was not authorized.
trial court entered an order on July 9, 2018, removing Ms.
Jones as personal representative. Therein, the trial court
noted that Mrs. Edmonds had a statutory preference to serve
as personal representative and that GAL Bleavins, on behalf
of Daughter, was next in line in the event that Mrs. Edmonds
declined to serve. The trial court also noted that Mrs.
Edmonds had asked that GAL Bleavins serve as personal
representative in her capacity as guardian ad litem of
Daughter. GAL Bleavins was therefore appointed as personal
representative. The trial court also ruled that Ms. Jones
would be required to file a full accounting. The trial court
certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54.02 of the
Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.
trial court later denied Ms. Jones's motion to reconsider
by order of September 12, 2018. Therein, the trial court
specifically addressed Ms. Jones's argument that she
could only be removed under section 35-15-706. Even crediting
this argument, the trial court found that removal was
appropriate under that statute because (1) Ms. Jones
committed a serious breach of trust in rushing to the court
house to seek administration of the estate without providing
any notice to Mrs. Edmonds; and (2) removal was requested by
all beneficiaries. Both of these situations, the trial court
ruled, authorized removal under section 35-15-706. Again, the
trial court designated its order as final and appealable. A
notice of appeal was filed on September 28, 2018.
Jones raises two issues on appeal, which are taken and
slightly restated from her appellate brief:
1. Whether Tennessee Code Annotated § 30-1-106
authorizes a Probate Court to remove a duly appointed
Personal Representative without cause, as is required by
Tennessee Code Annotated § 30-1-151.
2. Whether the trial abused its discretion when it appointed
the attorney for the mother, who is also the guardian of the
estate of the decedent's minor child, after being made
aware of the inherent conflict.
posture of appellee, GAL Bleavins seeks an award of
attorney's fees and costs incurred in this appeal.
of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure provides that a
trial court's findings of fact are reviewed "de novo
upon the record of the trial court, accompanied by a
presumption of the correctness of the finding, unless the
preponderance of the evidence is otherwise." Tenn. R.
App. P. 13(d). A trial court's conclusions of law,
however, are not entitled to a presumption of correctness.
Johnson v. Johnson, 37 S.W.3d ...