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Estes v. Estes

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

June 1, 2017

GREG ESTES AND JEFF ESTES, CO-EXECUTORS OF THE ESTATE OF JOE HOWARD ESTES, DECEASED
v.
SARAH YOUNG ESTES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/25/2014

         LEE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT C. MICHAEL MALSKI, Judge

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: AMY K. PIETROWSKI

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: RHETT R. RUSSELL

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

          WALLER, CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1. Sarah Young Estes (Young) seeks review of the Court of Appeals' decision to reverse and render the trial court's judgment entitling her to a child's share of the estate of her late husband, Joe Estes.[1] A divided Court of Appeals reversed and rendered the trial court judgment, finding persuasive evidence of Young's abandonment, principally from the filing of a divorce against Estes. Estes v. Estes (Estes II), 2016 WL 1564404 (Miss. Ct. App. Apr. 19, 2016). This Court granted certiorari. Finding that the chancellor did not manifestly err when he determined that Young had not abandoned the marital relationship and was entitled to a child's share of Estes's estate, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, affirm the judgment of the Lee County Chancery Court, and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. After dating for approximately six months, Young and Estes married on August 3, 2006. Young entered the marriage with four natural children and three adopted minor grandchildren. Estes also entered the marriage with several grown children. After marrying Estes, Young continued to maintain a home with her grandchildren where she had lived prior to the marriage. Young worked as a caregiver to the sick and elderly in their respective locations. She alternated one week of working night shifts followed by another week of working day shifts. As noted by the chancellor, Estes's and Young's "living arrangement was somewhat non-traditional." Despite this, the record shows that Young split her time between her children and Estes. She testified that she slept at his house when she was not working nights and prepared at least one meal a day for Estes.

         ¶3. On August 6, 2006, three days after Young and Estes married, Joe Estes was hospitalized for a foot injury that eventually resulted in the amputation of his left leg above the knee on August 17, 2006. Two months later, in October 2006, Estes returned to the hospital for surgery to clear blocked arteries in his neck. Young testified that, following these medical procedures, despite providing care for her husband, Estes's behavior changed. She testified that he would lash out at her, even threatening to kill her. In November 2006, Young consulted with a doctor regarding Estes's mental state. Following the doctor's advice, she reported the incident to the sheriff's department. In mid-January, after another episode in which Estes accused Young of adultery, Young decided to separate from Estes.

         ¶4. Estes's family members tell a different story. Following the amputation, Estes's family members testified that they, unlike Young, were very supportive of Estes. Estes's brother testified that he visited his brother every morning and every evening, spending about half an hour with Estes, and he rarely would see Young there. Jeff, one of Estes's sons, testified that he spent most weekends with his father and also stated that he rarely saw Young there during those times. In addition to finding Young absent, several family members testified that Young was stealing groceries to feed her own children. Estes's son also testified that his father had told him that Young had tried to strike him on his neck where he had recently had surgery. He also testified that his father had told him that he believed that Young was adding dish soap to his coffee.

         ¶5. On January 30, 2007, after Estes had refused to seek medical or mental help, Young initiated involuntary-commitment proceedings against Estes. She stated that he exhibited rages and threatened to harm her physically. She also said he accused her of having an affair and stealing groceries. After his psychiatric evaluation, Estes was found to be competent, with no indication of any psychiatric illness or anger-management problems. The evaluation also concluded that Estes was no danger to himself or anyone else. Thus, Estes was released from psychiatric care.

         ¶6. Immediately thereafter, on February 2, 2007, Estes sought a restraining order against Young. Approximately one month later, on March 7, 2007, Young filed for divorce, seeking half of all of Estes's assets, including the value of his land and his bank accounts. Young testified that her sole purpose in initiating the divorce proceedings was so, with a court order, she could return to Estes's property and gather her belongings. Young also requested temporary and permanent restraining orders against Estes. A few weeks later, Estes counterclaimed for divorce and also sought a restraining order. Eventually the parties entered into a mutual restraining order. In May 2007, Estes received notice of the final divorce hearing. The next day he shot and killed himself.

         ¶7. Estes's will did not provide for Young to inherit anything from his estate. Young renounced the will. The trial court granted Young a $12, 000 widow's allowance as well as a one-fifth, child's share of the estate in the amount of $68, 927.63. Estes's two sons, acting as co-executors, appealed the trial court's judgment. On appeal, the Court of Appeals determined that Young was not entitled to a widow's allowance since she was living apart from Estes, through no fault of his own, and without support from him at the time of his death. In re Estate of Estes (Estes I), 111 So.3d 1223, 1227 (Miss. Ct. App. 2012). The Court of Appeals remanded the case for a determination of whether ...


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