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In re Administration of Estate of Crowell

Supreme Court of Mississippi

November 6, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE ESTATE OF NORMA ALLENE CLOUD CROWELL, DECEASED: CARON D. CROWELL
v.
THE ESTATE OF JACKIE CROWELL TROTTER, DECEASED: BY ALAN TROTTER, ADMINISTRATOR

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/07/2012.

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: SUNFLOWER COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. WILLIAM JOSEPH LUTZ.

FOR APPELLANT: JAMES L. MARTIN.

FOR APPELLEE: W. S. STUCKEY, JR., WEBB FRANKLIN.

BEFORE RANDOLPH, P.J., LAMAR AND KITCHENS, JJ. WALLER, C.J., DICKINSON, P.J., LAMAR, KITCHENS, CHANDLER, PIERCE, KING AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR.

OPINION

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WILLS, TRUSTS, AND ESTATES

Page 195

RANDOLPH, PRESIDING JUSTICE

¶1. This case involves a familial dispute between two sisters. Jackie charged her sister Caron with unduly influencing their mother to obtain a greater share of the family property. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand this case to the Chancery Court of Sunflower County.

FACTS

¶2. Allene Crowell (" Allene" ) died testate on October 4, 2006, survived bye her two daughters, Caron Crowell (Caron) and Jacqueline Trotter (" Jackie" ), both of whom were named co-executrixes of Allene's estate, per Allene's will. Jackie filed a complaint alleging that Caron had unduly influenced Allene and converted assets into Caron's name, diminishing Jackie's inheritance.

¶3. Jackie was married to Alan Trotter and lived in North Carolina until her death on April 22, 2010.[1] Caron practiced law in New Orleans, Louisiana until 1996, at which time Caron quit working. After Caron quit working in December of 1996, she spent the majority of the next four years either traveling the world or living with Allene in Ruleville, Mississippi. While home, Caron helped her mother with personal and business affairs. Specifically, in 1997, Allene sought Caron's aid in completing a sale of timber existing on one of Allene's properties. After meeting with Louis Jackson, CPA, to discuss the timber sale and her tax return, Allene gifted the proceeds of the $180,000 sale equally to Caron and Jackie. Caron returned every year to meet with Jackson about her mother's taxes. Caron also started using Jackson for her own tax returns starting in 1998.

¶4. Starting in 2000, Caron spent considerably more time with Allene in Ruleville, living with her for about six months in both 2000 and 2001. It was during this time period in September 2000 that Allene transferred four bank certificates of deposit (CDs) totaling $237,985.16 to Caron. She went with her mother to each bank and was in the room with Allene when she signed over the CDs. Caron testified that, at each bank, bank representatives[2] suggested that Allene sign the CDs over to Caron.

¶5. In between the transfer of the four CDs, Caron advised her mother to execute a Power of Attorney (POA), authorizing Caron to act for her. Caron arranged the meeting with an attorney to draft the POA, but Allene drove. Caron testified that Allene continued to manage her own

Page 196

business affairs, sign her own checks, and drive herself around in 2000 and 2001. In 2000, Allene's doctor found her competent to handle her own business affairs. Caron described Allene's mental health in 2001 as " lucid and strong," with occasional forgetfulness. Caron left Ruleville in October 2001 and traveled to France, but she returned permanently in December 2001, at her mother's request.

¶6. In January 2002, Allene was diagnosed with moderate dementia, and the doctor found that she was no longer able to handle her business affairs. After Allene's health deteriorated, and she became more forgetful, Caron testified that she started signing all of Allene's checks in 2002 under her POA. Using her POA, Caron gifted $360,000 to herself in 2002 for " Asset Protection Control." She testified that this was done upon the advice of Jackson. In 2003, Caron executed a more " fulsome" Power of Attorney, as Allene had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. A few months later, Caron placed Allene in the first of several nursing homes.

¶7. After Allene's death, Allene's will was admitted to probate, and Jackie and Caron were made co-executrixes, per Allene's will. Caron was ordered to provide an accounting and inventory of estate property, and the trial judge authorized living expenses in the amount of $5,000 a month for Caron, who was to perform the majority of the duties of executrix.

¶8. Thereafter, Caron filed a motion to compel the estate to pay her the monthly living expenses, having received only $30,000 in more than thirteen months. Jackie responded that Caron was not entitled to receive the living expenses, as she had wrongfully converted estate assets, refused to relinquish estate property, and refused to provide an accounting as ordered by the court. The trial court " rescinded and held for naught nunc pro tunc " the portion of the previous order authorizing Caron to receive living expenses. The order also required Caron within twenty days to complete an inventory and assimilate all assets to be placed in trust, pending the outcome of the litigation, to which Caron complied.

¶9. Later, Jackie filed a complaint against Caron, alleging that she had unduly influenced Allene into gifting Caron large sums of money, amounting to a ...


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