Before McMILLIN, P.j., Diaz, King, And Payne, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Payne, J.
CHESTER W. WILLIAMS, APPELLANT v. JEANETTE M. GILBERT, APPELLEE
THIS OPINION IS NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION AND MAY NOT BE CITED, PURSUANT TO M.R.A.P. 35-B
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/09/96
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. HARVEY T. ROSS
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: COAHOMA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WILLS, TRUSTS AND ESTATES
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: CHANCELLOR RULED THAT APPELLEE SUCCESSFULLY REBUTTED THE PRESUMPTION OF UNDUE INFLUENCE.
DISPOSITION AFFIRMED - 4/21/98
The grantor, Chester Williams, filed suit against his stepdaughter, Jeanette Gilbert, in the Coahoma County Chancery Court claiming that he had been unduly influenced by her into giving her the house in which he resided. The chancellor ruled that although the transfer was presumptively void, the appellee succeeded in rebutting the presumption. The appellant filed a post trial motion for reconsideration, but was summarily denied. Feeling aggrieved by the chancellor's ruling, Chester Williams timely filed his appeal.
The appellant, Chester Williams, married Lois McVay Williams in 1972. Until Lois William's death on November 14, 1994, the couple resided at 169 Florence Avenue in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At the time of this action Chester Williams was eighty-four years old and his wife, Lois, a former diabetic, had died. Due to the couple's health problems, both depended on Lois Williams's daughter, Jeanette Gilbert, to assist them with business and personal needs. Jeanette Gilbert is one of three children Lois Williams had from a prior marriage. Prior to her demise, Lois and Chester had executed a joint will leaving their property to her children if at the time of the last survivor's death property remained.
Both Chester and Jeanette testified that Jeanette adequately provided for her stepfather, such as cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, and paying bills. Though Jeanette had ready access to Chester's checking and savings account, Chester admitted that Jeanette never made any transactions without his permission.
Jeanette testified that one day in February of 1995, Chester drove to her son's house and blew his horn to gain her attention. When she arrived at his car, she stated that Chester told her that he had expressed an interest in letting her have the house in which he currently resided. She testified that he was worried that the nursing home might levy against his house to satisfy any debts if he became a resident there at some time in the future. Jeanette testified:
A. When he asked me to do this he said that he was old and if he had to go to a nursing home he thought they, the nursing home or somebody might could take his house and his car and his money. And he wanted to do this he said, "You know your mother wanted her kids to have that little house, her bonds, her property." Whatever you call it, her estate.
Q. If I am making any sense of what you say Mr. Williams told you was that he was afraid if he got sick somehow or another the people that provided health care would get his house. Is that what ---
A. That's what he told me.
Q. So he wanted you to keep it out of the hands of his creditors or somebody like that is what he was telling you.
A. He didn't want the nursing home to have his home.
Chester denied talking with her concerning the house. He stated, "I don't recall that."
According to Jeanette, Chester requested that she contact an attorney and have him prepare a deed wherein Chester transferred his rights to the parcel of real estate in question to her. Jeanette also had attorney Lee Graves prepare a second deed wherein she gave Chester a life estate and a third deed wherein she gave each of her brothers an interest equal to her interest in the house. Jeanette stated that she wanted to reassure Chester that he would always have a place to live. She also stated that she learned from the tax collector's office that such an arrangement would allow Chester's tax exempt status to continue. Further, Jeanette noted that she explained the life estate to Chester but admitted that she failed to disclose to him that she transferred an interest of the house to her brothers. Chester did not recall this conversation. He further claims that he never asked Jeanette to have a deed made.
The parties both testified concerning the day the deed was signed; however their stories concerning this matter are in conflict with each other. Jeanette testified that on February 20, 1995, Evelyn King, the legal secretary at the attorney's office, telephoned and told her the deeds were ready. She stated that she then drove Chester to the attorney's office. She described Chester as being alert, enthusiastic and happy; however, she did state that she had the attorney's secretary bring the documents out to her car because Chester, confined because of his immobility, could not climb the office steps. Both then signed the deed.
Chester remembered going to the attorney's office but could not recall whose car they took. He admitted signing a piece of paper but testified that it was a plain sheet of paper that he signed and not a prepared instrument. He further noted that no one mentioned the document was a deed, nor did he receive a copy of the document.
Evelyn King testified in detail about her encounter with Chester on that day in question. King stated that she had been a legal secretary for eleven years and prior thereto has worked in the Coahoma County Chancery Clerk's office for ten years. She testified that she was a duly commissioned notary and that she had been for twenty years, at the time the document was notarized. She further testified that under her ...