IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF LOUIS LABASSE, JR., DECEASED: WENDY CHESTER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF LOUIS LABASSE, JR. APPELLANT
RUBY D. LABASSE APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 02/08/2016
FROM WHICH APPEALED: PEARL RIVER COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON.
DEBORAH J. GAMBRELL TRIAL JUDGE.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: G. CHARLES BORDIS IV.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: JAMES L. GRAY.
LEE, C.J., BARNES AND CARLTON, JJ.
Louis Labasse Jr. died on June 11, 2014. He was survived by
his wife, Ruby Labasse, and his daughters from a prior
marriage, Wendy Chester and Pamela Ortis. The Pearl River
County Chancery Court granted Wendy's petition to probate
her father's last will and testament and to be appointed
executor of his estate. Throughout the probate proceedings,
Ruby filed multiple petitions and motions requesting various
relief. Aggrieved by the chancellor's grant of relief to
Ruby, Wendy appeals and argues the chancellor erred by: (1)
considering Ruby's petition to contest the will; (2)
ruling upon the final accounting, the petition to close the
estate, and Ruby's objections to the final accounting;
(3) awarding Ruby a one-third interest in Louis's estate;
(4) ruling on Ruby's "Motion for Citation of
Contempt" against Wendy; and (5) awarding Ruby
attorney's fees. Through two motions filed at the same
time as her appellate brief, Ruby raises additional issues
for this Court's consideration: (1) whether Pamela should
be dismissed as an appellant from this appeal; and (2)
whether she is entitled to attorney's fees and expenses
Upon review, we affirm the chancellor's judgment. We also
find Ruby's motion to dismiss Pamela as an appellant is
well taken, and we therefore dismiss Pamela in this matter.
However, although Wendy's claims on appeal ultimately
prove unsuccessful, we decline to find her appeal frivolous.
We therefore deny Ruby's motion for attorney's fees
and expenses on appeal.
On May 22, 2014, less than a month before his death, Louis
published and declared an instrument that purported to be his
last will and testament. Subject to certain restrictions, the
will left Ruby a life estate in real property that served as
the couple's homestead. Ruby also received Louis's
interest in the couple's joint checking account.
Louis's daughters Wendy and Pamela received the remainder
of Louis's property. On July 18, 2014, Wendy filed a
petition to probate her father's will and to be appointed
executor of his estate. On July 24, 2014, the chancellor
entered an order to admit the will to probate in common form
and to appoint Wendy executor.
On October 10, 2014, Ruby renounced the bequest and devise of
the probated will and filed a spousal-share election pursuant
to Mississippi Code Annotated section 91-5-25 (Rev. 2013).
The following month, on November 20, 2014, Ruby filed a
petition to contest the will and remove Wendy as executor,
and she requested an accounting and a widow's allowance.
The same day, Ruby also filed a petition to establish her
widow's right to the possession and use of the
On February 11, 2015, the chancellor entered an order on
Ruby's various petitions. The chancellor found that Wendy
had changed the locks on Louis and Ruby's homestead and
had removed property from the homestead. In addition, the
chancellor determined that, prior to Louis's death, Wendy
used a power of attorney to write checks to herself and
withdraw $24, 795.98 in funds from Louis and Ruby's joint
checking account. In her February 11, 2015 order, the
chancellor (1) dismissed Ruby's petition to contest the
will after acknowledging that Ruby had withdrawn the
petition; (2) denied Ruby's petition for a widow's
allowance; (3) denied Ruby's petition to remove Wendy as
executor, subject to Wendy's compliance with the
requirements the chancellor established in the order; (4)
granted Ruby's petition to establish her right to the
possession and use of the homestead; and (5) granted Ruby a
spousal-share election and awarded her a one-third interest
in Louis's estate. In addition to the other requirements,
the chancellor ordered Wendy to return all the personal
property she had removed from the homestead and to deliver
the homestead keys to Ruby.
On May 18, 2015, Ruby filed a "Motion for Citation of
Contempt" against Wendy, claiming that Wendy had
willfully disobeyed the chancellor's February 11, 2015
order. Following a hearing on Ruby's contempt motion, the
chancellor entered an agreed order that, among other things,
directed Wendy, as estate executor, to file an inventory and
accounting, place certain funds into the account for
Louis's estate, and pay Ruby attorney's fees related
to the contempt action.
On July 2, 2015, Wendy filed her inventory and accounting, to
which Ruby timely objected. At a telephonic hearing, the
chancellor ruled that, in lieu of ordering Wendy to deposit
certain funds into the estate account, she would award Ruby a
monetary judgment against Wendy. Thus, on September 2, 2015,
the chancellor entered an order awarding Ruby $18, 795.98
plus interest against Wendy for Wendy's failure to comply
with the chancellor's earlier order. The chancellor
reserved a ruling on Ruby's request for attorney's
fees until the close of Louis's estate.
On November 24, 2015, after Wendy failed to comply with the
chancellor's order to file a final accounting and close
the estate, the attorney for the estate signed and filed the
final accounting and the petition to close the estate and
discharge Wendy as executor. On February 8, 2016, the
chancellor granted the petition to close the estate.
Aggrieved by the chancellor's grant of Ruby's various
requests for relief, Wendy appeals.
This Court declines to disturb a chancellor's factual
findings unless the findings were manifestly wrong or clearly
erroneous or the chancellor applied an erroneous legal
standard. Turnage v. Brooks, 213 So.3d 103, 105
(¶2) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016). "As long as substantial
evidence supports the chancellor's findings, an appellate
court is without authority to disturb them, even if it would
have found otherwise as an original matter."