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In re Estate of Flowers

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

March 7, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF BRENDA LOUISE BARGAS FLOWERS: CLAIRE C. FLOWERS AND BRENDA JANE FLOWERS PAIXAO
v.
THE ESTATE OF BRENDA LOUISE BARGAS FLOWERS, THROUGH ITS EXECUTOR, KNOX LEMEE FLOWERS, CECIL C. LANG AND LINDA S. LANG

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/06/2016

          LEFLORE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. MICHAEL H. WARD

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS FLOYD M. MELTON, JR. FLOYD M. MELTON, III RICHARD A. OAKES W. S. STUCKEY, JR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS DAVID NEIL McCARTY

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES RICHARD A. OAKES

          BEAM, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Claire Clements Flowers (Claire) and Brenda Jane Flowers Paixao (Jane) appealed the judgment of the Leflore County Chancery Court denying their request for an accounting of the estate and testamentary trust of their mother, Brenda Bargas Flowers. The chancery court concluded that the daughters did not have a current interest in their mother's estate.

         ¶2. On appeal, the daughters argued that they were specifically named in the will to be remainder beneficiaries and thus have standing to request an accounting. The Court of Appeals found that Claire and Jane have standing to request an accounting, finding that they have limited rights as holders of a shifting executory interest to prevent future waste.[1] In re Flowers v. Flowers, No. 2016-CA-00800-COA, 2018 WL 718626 (Miss. Ct. App. Feb. 6, 2018).

         ¶3. The estate petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, claiming that the daughters' appeal was untimely and that the Court of Appeals misapplied caselaw related to shifting executory interests and standing to request an accounting. We granted certiorari not to determine whether the sisters have standing, because we agree that they do, but to determine whether the chancellor abused his discretion in denying the sisters' accounting request. We find no manifest error in the chancery court's decision to deny Claire and Jane's request for an accounting. Accordingly, we reverse that portion of Court of Appeals' judgment and reinstate the chancery court's decision denying Claire and Jane's request for an accounting.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶4. "Richard and Brenda Flowers married and had three children: a son, Knox Lemeé Flowers, and two daughters, Claire and Jane." Flowers, 2018 WL 718626, at *1. "In 2004, Claire gave birth to a son, D.A.," whom Richard and Brenda adopted in 2005. Id. On April 15, 2006, Richard died. Id. On July 24, 2006, Brenda executed her last will and testament and died about a month later. Id.

         ¶5. "Brenda's will appointed Knox as her estate executor and provided that he 'serve without bond, inventory, appraisal[, ] or accounting to any [c]ourt.'" Id. "The will also established a trust that named D.A.," who was two years old at the time, "and his descendants as the income beneficiaries." Id. "The will provided for the trust's termination either at the time of D.A.'s thirtieth birthday or his death, whichever event occurred first." Id.

         ¶6. "The will further stated that at the time of termination, the trust's assets were to be divided evenly between D.A. and Knox." Id. If both D.A. and Knox died "without any descendants before the trust's termination, the trust's assets were to be distributed to Claire and Jane as beneficiaries, either directly or through conservatorships." Id. Brenda's will "stated that the trustee 'shall . . . account fully and completely annually, throughout the term of this [t]rust, to such income and/or corpus beneficiaries as there may be or[, ] in the event such beneficiary is a minor or a ward, then to such beneficiary's guardian.'" Id.

         ¶7. Brenda's "will was probated in Leflore County, and Knox was appointed her estate executor." Id. at *2. "In November 2007, the chancery court awarded custody of D.A. to his paternal grandfather and step-grandmother, Carter and Linda Lang." Id.

         ¶8. In February 2008, the chancellor signed an order that disposed of numerous motions filed by the parties. Id. " In doing so, the chancellor granted Claire's requests to withdraw her previously filed motion for an accounting of [Brenda's] estate and her petition for Knox's disqualification as estate executor." Id. The chancellor further ordered Knox, as executor, to take the following actions upon the closing of Brenda's estate

[L]ist the household goods and personal belongings of Brenda . . ., as well as lockbox contents[, ] that came into his possession as [e]xecutor and . . . state where these items are presently located, and any items converted to his personal possession or disposed of for his benefit will be noted and charged against any [e]xecutor's fee, as may be determined and approved by this [c]ourt[; and] . . . .
[F]urnish an accounting of [Brenda's] [e]state from the date of death to the date of any final decree granting Claire . . . [g]uardianship of [D.A.] due to the appeal on file at this time . . . and[] that Claire . . . is entitled to an accounting, if and when she becomes a vested remainder beneficiary of this estate from the date of such vesting until delivery of assets to her.

Id. (emphasis added by Court of Appeals).

         ¶9. "Despite withdrawing her first motion for an accounting" in August 2015, Claire, proceeding pro se, filed a second "petition for a full accounting," alleging "that Knox and others associated with the administration of Brenda's estate had mismanaged and misappropriated estate and trust assets." Id. Claire claimed that "even though she was a remainder beneficiary of [Brenda's] will, she still [had] standing to demand an accounting." Id.

         ¶10. In February 2016, "Knox filed a final accounting in [Brenda's] estate and a petition to be discharged as executor." Id. at *3. "[A]s provided in the [2008] decree, Knox prepared the estate accounting and presented it in camera to the chancellor, D.A., and D.A.'s guardians, the Langs." Id.

         ¶11. In March 2016, the chancery court denied Claire's August 2015 "petition for a full accounting of [Brenda's] estate and testamentary trust," acknowledging the court's prior ruling "that Claire would be entitled to an accounting 'if and when she [became] a vested remainder beneficiary' of [Brenda's] estate." Id. Claire filed a motion for reconsideration, which the chancery court denied. Id.

         ¶12. The Court of Appeals reversed the chancery court's order denying Claire and Jane's request for an accounting, finding that Brenda's will gave Claire and Jane a shifting executory interest in the assets of the testamentary trust. Flowers, 2018 WL 718626, at *4. And "[a]s holders of a shifting executory interest in their mother's estate, Claire and Jane possess limited rights to enjoin the possessory owners from future waste of ...


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