BEFORE HAWKINS, P.J.; ROBERTSON AND ANDERSON, JJ.
ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
This appeal arises from a will contest. The Chancery Court upheld the will of an elderly widow which in effect disinherited her two adopted children and the question is whether the Court saddled the wrong parties with the burden of persuasion en route. We hold the Court erred in this regard and reverse.
Anita P. Clardy, at the time a seventy-nine year old widow residing in Starkville, Mississippi, departed this life on April 24, 1987. Her husband, Earl Clardy, had died nearly four years earlier. About three and a half months before her death - on January 8, 1987, to be exact, Anita had executed a new will in which she left her property to various friends and relatives. Of significance, she left only one dollar to each of her two adopted children, Earl and Joyce, "because of their vile attitude towards me since 1953 [the date of their adoption] and the vile names they have called me."
On April 29, 1987, the National Bank of Commerce of Mississippi (sometimes "proponent") filed in the Chancery Court of Oktibbeha County its Petition for Probate of Will and Issuance of Letters Testamentary in the Estate of Anita P. Clardy. By decree entered the same day, the clerk issued letters testamentary to the Bank as executor. Subsequently on May 7, 1987, the Bank as executor filed an amendment to its petition for probate to proceed in solemn form. Earl Leon Clardy of Houston, Texas, and Joyce Clardy Boyd of Leavenworth, Kansas, the adopted children of Anita Clardy, were named as interested parties.
On August 31, 1987, Earl and Joyce answered, denying that their mother had testamentary capacity at the time she executed the will.
On November 3, 1987, and December 7, 1987, the case was tried before the Chancery Court, sitting without jury. At trial proponent called a number of witnesses to establish Clardy's
testamentary capacity and, as well, a witness who told of Earl's and Joyce's disregard for their mother.
As contestants, Earl and Joyce sought to show that in the years following their father's death Anita became irrational, experienced false delusional beliefs regarding them and their treatment of her, and lacked testamentary capacity when she made her new will - just over three months before her death.
The Chancery Court issued a Bench Opinion that was filed on December 21, 1987. In that opinion the Chancery Court discussed the burden of proof in the case sub judice. The Chancery Court stated:
The proponents and contestants are not before this Court as equals. The proponents enjoy the privilege of being in a preferenced [sic] position in that, under the law, this Court, as well as the contestants, are charged with the responsibility of complying with the wishes of the testatrix, and with that obligation goes the legal presumption that the testatrix was of sound, disposing mind and memory. The burden of proof rests with the contestants.
The contestants, therefore, having the burden of proof, in the opinion of the Court, have failed to meet that burden, and their request for relief will be denied.
On December 17, 1987, the Chancery Court entered judgment in favor of the Bank as proponent of the will, upholding its validity. Earl and Joyce ...