IN THE MATTER OF THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF DOROTHY TRUE, DECEASED: PATRICIA ANN TRUE SCHMIDT AND MARY JUANITA TRUE HEGWOOD APPELLANTS
JAMES T. "JIM" TRUE APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 04/12/2016
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. VICKI B.
DANIELS TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: DARRIN JAY WESTFAUL
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: KIRKLAND CALDWELL WILLINGHAM
IRVING, P.J., FAIR AND WILSON, JJ.
l. Patricia Ann Schmidt (Ann) and Mary Hegwood appeal from a
judgment denying their petition to contest the will of their
mother, Dorothy True. The record shows that necessary parties
to the will contest were not joined. Mississippi Code
Annotated section 91-7-25 (Rev. 2013) provides that all
persons interested in a will contest must be joined as
parties. Our Supreme Court has made clear that this
requirement is both mandatory and jurisdictional and that any
judgment entered in the absence of such parties is void and
must be set aside. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for
joinder of all necessary parties and further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
2. Dorothy, a resident of Yalobusha County, passed away on
February 18, 2014, at the age of 100. Dorothy's husband
preceded her in death. Dorothy was survived by four children:
daughters Ann, who lives in Virginia, and Mary, who lives in
Florida, and sons John True of Batesville and James
"Jim" True of Water Valley.
3. On September 24, 2014, Jim filed a petition to probate an
eight-page holographic will signed by Dorothy. The will is
notarized on one page and signed by two neighbors as
witnesses on another page. It names John and Jim as
executors. However, John passed away on August 24, 2014.
According to the petition, John was survived by "one
heir, namely his son Jody True." The will contains a
no-contest clause, bequests of money and personal property,
and instructions for Dorothy's funeral. Bequests were
made to all four then-living children and to Jim's son,
Jamie. John and Jim were "to have $20, 000 each CDs for
helping [Dorothy] when [she] couldn't do for
[her]self." The pages of the document are numbered.
However, it is unclear when the page numbers were added, and
as the chancellor concluded, the numbers do not appear
logical-i.e., the page numbered "1" does not seem
to be the first page of the will, etc. Words have been
scratched out and added in various places in the document.
4. On March 26, 2015, Ann and Mary filed a petition to
contest and set aside the will. They asserted that the
document did not satisfy the requirements of a valid
holographic or non-holographic will. Among other issues, the
petition noted that Dorothy's signature was on the first
page of the document as it was numbered and filed, rather
than at the end of the last page. The petition also stated
that Dorothy was predeceased by another daughter, Frances
Davis, who had two living daughters.
5. On April 12, 2016, a hearing was held on the petition to
contest the will. Ann and Mary testified and acknowledged
that most of the will was in their mother's handwriting;
however, they expressed doubt as to certain words that were
added where other words were scratched out. Ann also
testified that she did not believe that the document's
page numbers were in her mother's handwriting. Jim
testified that his mother told him that her will was in her
safe deposit box at the bank, and he found it there when she
died. The two witnesses to the will-Carl and Minnie Mae
Vick-testified that in 2006 they went to Dorothy's house
and witnessed the will at her request. Jim was also present.
Dorothy stated that the will was consistent with her wishes,
and then they signed it. Carl and Minnie Mae could not recall
whether the document had page numbers when they signed it.
They testified that they believed that the document was in
6. At the conclusion of the hearing, the chancellor ruled
that the document was a valid holographic will. The
chancellor found that the page numbers on the will were added
by someone else after the fact and did not accurately reflect
the true order of the pages. The chancellor ruled that the
addition of page numbers by another person did not invalidate
the will, and she re-ordered the pages in what she found to
be their most logical order. As reordered, Dorothy's
signature appeared on the final page of the will, with no