IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF RAMON REGAN, DECEASED: JUNE SWILLEY, APPELLANT,
ESTATE OF ELSIE SIMM LEBLANC, APPELLEE
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/01/2014.
HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. CARTER O. BISE.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: TIMOTHY LEE MURR, HERBERT J. STELLY.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JAMES H. HEIDELBERG, APRIL LEIGH MCDONALD.
BEFORE IRVING, P.J., ISHEE AND CARLTON, JJ.
¶1. June Swilley appeals the Harrison County Chancery Court's judgment declaring the last will and testament of Ramon Regan invalid. On appeal, Swilley raises the following issues: (1) whether the chancellor erred by finding Regan's last will and testament to be invalid; and (2) whether the chancellor erred by refusing to consider parol evidence to determine Regan's intent.
¶2. Upon review, we find that the document entitled Regan's "Last Will and Testament" lacks ambiguity and simply fails to designate, describe, or otherwise identify any beneficiaries. We therefore find no error in the chancellor's refusal to admit parol evidence and his decision to declare the will invalid. Accordingly, we affirm the chancellor's judgment.
¶3. Regan died on April 12, 2011. Prior to his death, Regan resided for about ten years in a personal care home maintained by Swilley and her husband, Elroy. In 2008, Swilley arranged for Susan Beckham, a local notary public, to assist Regan in preparing a will. During the meeting with Regan, Beckham filled out a preprinted form titled "Last Will and Testament" pursuant to Regan's instructions. Regan then signed the document on February 7, 2008, in front of Beckham, Swilley, W.J. Cameron, and Charlotte Saucier. After witnessing Regan execute the document, Cameron and Saucier also signed the last will and testament in Regan's presence as his witnesses. The document stated that Regan never married or had any children. As the record in this case further reflects, Regan's parents preceded him in death.
¶4. Following Regan's death, Swilley filed a petition to probate Regan's last will and testament. A search for Regan's heirs at law revealed that Regan's aunt, Elsie Simm LeBlanc, survived him. Although Elsie subsequently passed away on January 13, 2013, her son, Kenneth Simm LeBlanc, filed a caveat against the probate of Regan's last will and testament as the administrator of Elsie's estate (the Estate). After a hearing on the matter, the chancellor determined that, pursuant to Mississippi's laws of descent and distribution, Elsie constituted Regan's sole heir at law.
¶5. On behalf of the Estate, Kenneth filed a motion to declare Regan's last will and testament invalid because of the document's failure to designate a beneficiary and properly devise Regan's property. The Estate also filed a motion to strike the affidavit of Beckham, which Swilley attached to her response to the motion to declare Regan's last will and testament invalid. The Estate sought to strike Beckham's affidavit on the ground that Beckham's testimony was inadmissible as evidence.
¶6. As reflected in the record, Regan's last will and testament stated that, upon his death, he wanted to distribute all his estate, including his monetary and real property. However, the document failed to designate a beneficiary to whom Regan wished to distribute his property. Swilley asserted that, due to a scrivener's error by Beckham in filling out the blank form, the document failed to name the Swilleys as Regan's beneficiaries. Swilley asserted, however, that the document still met the statutory requirements for a will and clearly reflected Regan's intent to devise or bequeath his property. She therefore argued that the chancellor should consider parol evidence to determine Regan's intent. By contrast, the Estate contended that the failure to name a beneficiary made it impossible to determine Regan's intent by reviewing the document alone. The Estate further argued that the chancellor should not consider parol evidence to ascertain Regan's intent.
¶7. After considering the parties' arguments, the chancellor entered an order granting the Estate's motion to declare Regan's purported last will and testament invalid. The chancellor found that he must first look to the four corners of the document to determine Regan's intent and that he could not simply add language to the will. Because the chancellor found that Regan's last will and testament failed to name any beneficiary and was not subject to multiple interpretations, he refused to consider any parol evidence regarding Regan's testamentary intent. Concluding that he was left "with nothing in the document to interpret" and that the document simply failed to devise or bequeath ...