GREG ESTES AND JEFF ESTES, CO-EXECUTORS OF THE ESTATE OF JOE HOWARD ESTES, DECEASED
SARAH YOUNG ESTES
OF JUDGMENT: 09/25/2014
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT C. MICHAEL MALSKI, Judge
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: AMY K. PIETROWSKI
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: RHETT R. RUSSELL
WRIT OF CERTIORARI
WALLER, CHIEF JUSTICE
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. 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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ...