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In re Estate of Sojourner

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

March 27, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF LISA HOLLY SOJOURNER, DECEASED: BARBARA Y. SOJOURNER, KAREN SOJOURNER, KATHERINE CLAIRE SOJOURNER, AND THE MADISON ARK APPELLANTS
v.
SUSAN S. CAMPBELL APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/21/2016

          COPIAH COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. EDWARD E. PATTEN JR. JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: JOHN W. CHRISTOPHER

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OLEN C. BRYANT JR. TIMOTHY L. RUTLAND

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., CARLTON AND WILSON, JJ.

          GRIFFIS, P.J.

         ¶1. This appeal concerns a chancellor's denial of probate of a last will and testament based on undue influence. We find no error and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Lisa Holly Sojourner died June 28, 2015, at the age of 53. She was survived by many family members including her mother, Barbara Sojourner, her two sisters, Karen Sojourner and Susan Campbell, her adopted sister, Denise Sojourner Thompson, her nieces, Karen's daughters, Jennifer "Nicole" Sojourner Kueck and Katherine "Claire" Sojourner, and her grandniece, Nicole's daughter, Hannah Sojourner.

         ¶3. On September 15, 2015, Susan filed a petition for letters of administration and to determine heirship. Thereafter, on September 28, 2015, Karen filed a petition to probate Lisa's last will and testament. In response to Karen's petition, Susan filed a complaint to contest the validity of the will. A trial on the merits was subsequently held in the Chancery Court of Copiah County.

         ¶4. At trial, testimony revealed that Lisa had an IQ of seventy-four. Her reading recognition was at a fifth-grade level, and her reading comprehension was at a third-grade level. Additionally, Lisa was in the ninth percentile for reading and spelling, and the first percentile for arithmetic. As a result of her mental condition, a conservatorship was established for Lisa and her estate in 1998.

         ¶5. In July 1999, Lisa executed a last will and testament. Thereafter, on June 4, 2002, Lisa executed a codicil to the will. Pursuant to Article V of her will, Lisa devised her interest in all real property to her nieces, Nicole and Claire, in equal shares. Pursuant to Article VI, Lisa devised all of the residue of her property, real or personal, to her grandniece, Hannah, her nieces Nicole and Claire, and her mother, Barbara, in equal shares.

         ¶6. In 2012, Lisa developed colon cancer. Karen became Lisa's primary caregiver. During Lisa's illness, Lisa, Karen, and Susan were involved in a contested partition of land involving a sizeable amount of property acquired from their father. As a result, Karen retained attorney G. Michael Massey to represent her in the dispute.

         ¶7. In 2013, Lisa was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. On June 27, 2013, Lisa executed a second codicil to her will, which was prepared by Massey. Pursuant to the second codicil, Article V was amended to devise Lisa's interest in all real property to her nieces, Nicole and Claire, and her sister, Karen, in equal parts. Additionally, Article VI was amended to leave $5, 000 each to Lisa's nephew, John Parker Campbell, and her niece, Dabney Campbell. All of the residue of Lisa's property, real or personal, was devised in equal shares to her grandniece, Hannah, her nieces Nicole and Claire, her mother, Barbara, and her sister, Karen.

         ¶8. As a result of her failing health, Lisa moved into Karen's house in January 2014. On April 23, 2014, Lisa executed a new will, prepared by attorney Elise Munn. Under the new will, Lisa left $1, 000 to her nephew, John Parker, her nieces, Dabney and Nicole, her grandniece, Hannah, and the Madison Ark. The remainder of Lisa's property was left to her sister, Karen, and her niece, Claire.

         ¶9. According to Munn, Lisa was not happy with the way her will was written and wanted specific changes made. Munn was the attorney for Lisa's conservatorship and was aware of Lisa's medical condition. However, Munn was unaware of Lisa's IQ level or her specific weaknesses in reading, spelling, and arithmetic.[1] Munn testified that she knew there was a lot of animosity among the family, and she was aware of the partition dispute wherein the three sisters, Lisa, Karen, and Susan, each owned a one-third interest in a very valuable piece of property. Munn stated that she was ...


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