IN THE MATTER OF THE CONSERVATORSHIP OF CHARLES ADDISON: CYNTHIA SHENELL JACKSON A/K/A CYNTHIA ADDISON JACKSON APPELLANT
DOUG TOUCHSTONE, CONSERVATOR, WILLIAM ADDISON A/K/A WILLIE ADDISON, AND AUBREY ADDISON APPELLEES
OF JUDGMENT: 11/18/2015
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. DEBBRA K. HALFORD
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SANFORD E. KNOTT
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: ALTON LAMAR WATTS, GARY L. HONEA,
JOHN BENJAMIN ROWLEY TODD BRENTLEY OTT
LEE, C.J., WILSON AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.
This is a case about joint ownership of bank accounts and
certificates of deposit. From 1975 to 1999, Charlie Addison
made his daughter, Cynthia Addison Jackson, a joint owner of
several of his bank accounts and CDs. Cynthia was still in
high school when Charlie opened the first of these accounts.
In 2011, Charlie's mental and physical health had
declined, and he needed a conservator. The chancellor
appointed Cynthia conservator of Charlie's person and
appointed the Pike County Chancery Clerk conservator of
Charlie's estate. The chancellor also ordered the funds
in the joint accounts and CDs to be transferred to a
conservatorship account for "safekeeping." Cynthia
appealed, arguing that the chancellor should have appointed
her conservator of her father's estate. However, Charlie
passed away while the appeal was pending. Cynthia and the
conservator then filed a joint motion to dismiss the appeal
as moot, which this Court granted.
After Charlie's death, Cynthia filed a motion in the
chancery court requesting the return of the funds that had
been transferred to the conservatorship account. She
maintained that she was the rightful owner of the funds as
the surviving joint owner of the accounts and CDs from which
they had been transferred. The chancellor denied
Cynthia's motion and ruled that the funds were the
property of Charlie's estate. Cynthia appealed.
We hold that Cynthia was a joint owner with rights of
survivorship of the funds held in the joint accounts and CDs,
that her interest in the funds was not destroyed by their
transfer to conservatorship accounts, and that she did not
abandon her claim to the funds when she agreed to dismiss her
prior appeal as moot. Accordingly, we reverse and render
judgment in favor of Cynthia.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Charlie and his wife, Margie Mae, had two sons, Aubrey
Addison and Willie Addison, and one daughter, Cynthia.
Cynthia is fifty-eight years old and has lived in Pike County
or Amite County for most of her life. Willie is seventy-four
years old. It appears that he now lives in McComb, although
he previously lived out of state and the record is not clear
as to when he moved to Mississippi. Aubrey has lived in
California since the early 1960s and is now approximately
seventy-five years old. He rarely saw his parents in the last
few years of their lives. Margie Mae passed away on May 3,
2012. Charlie passed away on January 9, 2014, at the age of
ninety-six. As noted above, this appeal concerns certain bank
accounts and CDs that Charlie established prior to his death.
In 1975, Charlie opened a savings account at First National
Bank (now known as Trustmark National Bank) that named
Cynthia as a joint owner. At that time, Charlie had moved to
Wisconsin for work, and Cynthia was living with relatives in
Mississippi while she finished high school. In the 1980s and
1990s, Charlie established additional accounts and CDs that
named Cynthia as a joint owner. Charlie provided all of the
funds for these accounts and CDs. Cynthia wrote checks on and
made deposits to and withdrawals from the accounts, but only
at Charlie's direction.
In 1993, Charlie and Margie Mae moved back to Mississippi and
lived less than a mile from Cynthia for the rest of their
lives. After he returned to Mississippi, Charlie continued to
maintain and create accounts and CDs that named Cynthia as a
joint owner. Cynthia saw her parents almost daily, but it is
undisputed that Charlie remained independent, active, and
competent to manage his own affairs for many years after he
returned to Mississippi.
In April 2010, Charlie executed (1) a durable general power
of attorney designating Cynthia as his attorney-in-fact; (2)
a deed conveying 140 acres in Amite County to Cynthia; and
(3) a will. The will was sealed, and Cynthia and her husband,
John, testified that they had not seen it and did not know
what it provided. John testified that Charlie made the
appointment with the attorney himself. John testified that he
drove Charlie to the attorney's office because Charlie
asked him to do so; however, he did not attend the
appointment with Charlie or ask him why he needed to see a
lawyer. Cynthia testified that she did not ask her father to
sign the power of attorney, deed, or will. According to
Cynthia, Charlie did not tell her about the documents until
after he had signed them, and he warned her that her brothers
"were going to cause problems."
Cynthia testified that by July 2011, Charlie "was not
what he used to be" mentally, and she became concerned
that Willie would try to convince Charlie to cut timber on
his land. She was also worried that Willie would take Charlie
to a bank and persuade him to withdraw funds from his
accounts. Cynthia testified that she and her family were
going to be out of town for several days, so she moved over
$204, 000 from joint accounts owned by her and Charlie to her
personal bank account. She claimed that she did this to
prevent Willie or anyone else from taking advantage of her
for Appointment of a Conservator and Temporary Order
On December 20, 2011, Willie filed a petition in the Amite
County Chancery Court to appoint a conservator for
Charlie's person and estate. Willie alleged that Cynthia
should not be appointed conservator because she had exercised
undue influence over Charlie. Aubrey joined Willie's
petition. Cynthia subsequently filed an answer and
cross-petition for appointment of a conservator. Cynthia
agreed that a conservator should be appointed for
Charlie's person and estate, and she asked the court to
appoint her as conservator.
On June 7, 2012, the chancellor entered a temporary order
appointing Pike County Chancery Clerk Doug
Touchstone as conservator for Charlie's estate
and Cynthia as conservator over Charlie's person. The
order also directed Cynthia to "deliver" all
relevant "financial documents"-including all
checking accounts, savings accounts, and CDs-to Touchstone
within seven days and "enjoined [Cynthia] from disposing
of any [CDs] or funds" in any account "that came
from Charlie." The chancellor also ordered Cynthia to
account for the approximately $204, 000 that she had removed
from the joint accounts.
On July 9, 2012, Touchstone filed a motion to compel Cynthia
to comply with the court's order to turn over financial
documents and return Charlie's money. Cynthia's
response stated that she had returned the funds to the joint
accounts on June 25, 2012, and that the court-appointed
guardian ad litem (GAL) was already in possession of the
financial documents. The funds were transferred from the
joint accounts to new conservatorship accounts by September
Guardian Ad Litem Report
Willie and Aubrey told the GAL that they had not visited with
Charlie in 2012 and were reluctant to visit him at
Cynthia's home. Their primary concerns were the power of
attorney and deed that Charlie signed in April 2010 and the
funds that Cynthia transferred to her personal account.
Willie and Aubrey did not believe that Charlie had the
capacity in April 2010 to sign a deed or a power of attorney.
The GAL concluded that the deed and transfer of funds
"appear[ed] suspect, " "at least on their
face." However, he also concluded that all three
children appeared to be "motivated by genuine concern
for their father."
The GAL met with Cynthia, her husband, and Charlie at
Charlie's home, a "small house/apartment"
located directly behind Cynthia's home. Cynthia had the
apartment built in 2012 so that she could care for her
parents. Previously, Cynthia and her husband had cared for
her parents by living temporarily in a camper parked next to
her parents' home. The GAL found that Charlie's new
home was clean, neat, and comfortable.
The GAL reported that Charlie was well cared for and in fair
physical condition, although he was feeble. Charlie knew his
birth year, although he was unable to state his age. Charlie
seemed to think that he was still at his home in Amite
County, rather than at his daughter's residence in Pike
County. Charlie also seemed unsure whether he owned or ever
had owned any land, and he tried to avoid answering questions
about the land.
The GAL recommended that Cynthia be required to comply with
the court's prior order to return the transferred funds,
that the court hire a CPA to examine all of Charlie's
financial records, that Charlie receive regular visits from a
home health agency, and that Willie and Aubrey be allowed to
visit their father at his home.
Conservatorship Hearing and Order
At a hearing on September 11, 2012, all parties and the GAL
agreed that Charlie required a conservator for his person and
estate and that Cynthia should continue to act as conservator
over his person. The only dispute was whether Touchstone or
Cynthia should be conservator over Charlie's estate.
Cynthia testified about the joint accounts that she held with
her father. She stated that she made withdrawals from and
deposits to the accounts while her parents lived in Wisconsin
based on her father's instructions. She readily
acknowledged that the money in the accounts belonged to her
father. She stated that she always considered it his money
but that he "trusted" her and "wanted [her] to
be over [the money]." She further testified: "By
him putting it in my name that meant I would make the
decisions about what was to be done with the money." She
intended to use the money to "take care of [him],
whatever his needs" might be. She testified that she did
not "know the law on" what would happen to any
money that remained after Charlie died.
Cynthia testified that around July 2011, she first noticed
that her father's mind seemed to be getting weaker-it
"was not what it used to be." She became concerned
that, in her absence, Willie might convince Charlie to cut
timber or transfer money out of his bank accounts. She
claimed that she had to go to Arkansas on July 15, 2011 to
help her daughter move to do a student internship,
before she left town, she transferred $204, 000 from accounts
jointly owned by her and Charlie to her personal account.
Cynthia admitted that she had not yet provided Touchstone
with all relevant financial documents. She also admitted that
she had paid her father's sitters from a joint account
despite the court's order not to dispose of any of his
funds. She testified that she had not understood the
court's order to prohibit such payments.
The chancellor ruled from the bench that Touchstone would
remain as conservator of Charlie's estate and that
Cynthia would remain as conservator of Charlie's person.
In her bench ruling, the chancellor criticized Cynthia's
failure to turn over financial documents and comply with
prior court orders. The chancellor also questioned the
credibility of some aspects of Cynthia's ...