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IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF HATTIE FORD, DECEASED: CLARA WOODALL, et al. v. P.L. JOHNSON

NOVEMBER 08, 1989

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF HATTIE FORD, DECEASED: CLARA WOODALL, et al.
v.
P.L. JOHNSON, et al.



BEFORE HAWKINS, P.J.; ROBERTSON AND SULLIVAN, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

I.

The kindred of the natural father of a woman born in 1898 but out of wedlock have asserted a claim to inherit from her under our amended statute of descent and distribution. The question is whether the father's kin have shouldered their burden of proving that the father both acknowledged and treated the woman as his daughter and did not refuse or neglect to support her when she was a child.

 The Chancery Court found that the kindred claiming to inherit had failed in their burden and the question on appeal is whether the evidence is such that we should intervene. The evidence before us is quite sketchy and, in view of the lapse of time, perhaps necessarily so. Given our limited scope of review on appeal, we may only affirm.

 II.

 Hattie Ford was born in 1898. Her parents were Andrew McCarty and Pearlie Mackey, who never married. Ford was raised by her mother and maternal grandparents. Hattie Ford married Rayfield Ford who predeceased her. The Fords had no children. Hattie Ford died intestate on October 14, 1986, a resident of the Second Judicial District of Panola County. Her only surviving relatives at the time of her death were several maternal first cousins of the whole-blood and several paternal nieces and nephews of the half-blood.

 After Hattie was born, her father, Andrew McCarty, married

 another woman and had two daughters, Estelle and Iona. Estelle married and became Estelle Sisk and had seven children. Iona married and became Iona Moore and had three children. These ten are Clara Woodall, Euthie Mae Moore, Lela Moore Hickins, James Sisk, Hayes Sisk, Robert Lee Sisk, Rosie Sisk, Blanche Andrews, Welthy Mae Sisk, and Ella Mae Sisk Horton. The children of Estelle Sisk and Iona Moore are half-blood nieces and nephews of Hattie Ford. They are the "kindred" of Andrew McCarty within the meaning of Miss. Code Ann. 91-1-15 (3)(d)(i) (Supp.1989), were the claimants below, and are the Appellants here.

 Pearlie Mackey, Hattie Ford's mother, had several brothers and sisters who predeceased Ford. These brothers and sisters left eight children who survived Ford. These include P.L. Johnson, Sarah Brassell, Ike Johnson, Hattie Fondren, Ora Ford, John A. Barr, Frances C. Brown, and Bob Lee Johnson. Collectively these descendants of Pearlie Mackey are Appellees here. In relation to Ford they are first cousins of the whole blood.

 On November 24, 1986, some forty-one days after Hattie Ford's death, P.L. Johnson, one of Mackey's kinspeople, filed a petition in the Chancery Court of the Second Judicial District of Panola County seeking appointment as the administrator of Ford's estate. On that same day, Letters of Administration were issued to Johnson. On November 26, 1986, a "NOTICE TO CREDITORS" was first published in The Panolian and was also published on December 3, 1986 and December 10, 1986. After several procedural missteps, the grandchildren of Andrew McCarty, led by Clara Woodall, intervened and claimed Ford's estate.

 The First and Final Accounting reflected a modest estate available for distribution to Ford's heirs at law. A checking account in the Batesville Security Bank held a net balance of $1,584.13. A Golden Savings Account in United Southern Bank, Batesville, Mississippi, held $9,608.64 as of May 1987.

 The trial was short. Before any witnesses were called, the parties stipulated the family tree of Hattie Ford and offered a chart reflecting the relation of those claiming to be her legal heirs. A copy of this chart is included as an Appendix to this opinion. Clara Woodall, the lead claimant below, called only two witnesses who testified, herself and her husband Alex Woodall. Administrator Johnson called only one witness, Ora Barr Ford, who is one of the first cousins of Hattie Ford. At the time of the trial Ora Barr Ford was 81 years old. At the conclusion of the trial, the Chancery Court requested each side to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 The Chancery Court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, ruling that the legal heirs of Hattie Ford were her

 maternal first cousins of the whole blood. The Court held, inter alia, that Andrew McCarty, Hattie Ford's natural father, had never acknowledged her as his daughter and, moreover, had refused or neglected to support her during her childhood. Therefore, pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. 91-1-15(3)(d)(i) (Supp. 1989), the nieces ...


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