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Estate of Roosa v. Roosa

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 23, 2019

THE ESTATE OF JOAN B. ROOSA, DECEASED: CHRISTOPHER A. ROOSA, JOHN D. ROOSA, STUART ALLEN ROOSA, JR., ALL INDIVIDUALLY; KATHLEEN ROOSA AND DANIELLE ROOSA, BY AND THROUGH THEIR NEXT FRIEND AND NATURAL GUARDIAN, JOHN D. ROOSA; SOPHIA ROOSA, STUART ALLEN ROOSA, III AND BARRON ROOSA, BY AND THROUGH THEIR NEXT FRIEND AND NATURAL GUARDIAN, STUART ALLEN ROOSA, JR.; CHRISTOPHER A. ROOSA, AS EXECUTOR AND TRUSTEE OF THE JOAN B. ROOSA FAMILY TRUST; AND VELDA ANN POWELL APPELLANTS
v.
ROSEMARY D. ROOSA APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/17/2017

          HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. CARTER O. BISE TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: JOHN G. McDONNELL COURTNEY McDONNELL SNODGRASS

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: PAUL M. NEWTON JR.

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., GREENLEE AND McCARTY, JJ.

          McCARTY, J.

         ¶1. This case chiefly concerns whether submitting a codicil for probate triggers a forfeiture provision in a decedent's will. If the clause is triggered, the question becomes whether good faith prevents application of the forfeiture. Finding no error in the chancery court's refusal to forfeit a daughter from inheriting under her mother's will, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. This appeal involves litigation that has been ongoing since Joan Roosa died in October 2007. Joan had an ample estate partly from businesses operated by her and her husband, Colonel Stuart Roosa, who had flown the command module Kitty Hawk to the moon on the Apollo 14 mission. Joan executed a will in 2002 and a codicil to it in 2004; a second codicil was executed in 2007. At the time of her death, Joan had four children-Christopher, Rosemary, Stuart, and John-and a number of grandchildren. Under the terms of the will and the first codicil, all of the children and grandchildren were to receive some proceeds under the will. In contrast, under the second codicil, the bulk of the estate was left to the benefit of Rosemary alone.

         ¶3. Christopher, the executor of Joan's estate, submitted Joan's will and the first codicil for probate in the Harrison County Chancery Court, First Judicial District. Shortly after, Rosemary submitted the will, the first codicil, and the second codicil for probate. Christopher and Joan's other children, including Joan's grandchildren, contested the validity of the second codicil, claiming among other things that Rosemary had undue influence over Joan.

         ¶4. A jury was empaneled to determine the validity of the second codicil. After trial, the jury returned a general verdict for Christopher and the other contestants, rejecting the second codicil. The chancery court subsequently entered an order stating the second codicil was refused for probate.

         ¶5. Joan's will had a forfeiture provision which would deprive any beneficiary from taking under the will if they contested the will. Christopher sought to have this forfeiture provision enforced against Rosemary since she filed the second codicil for probate, claiming that she interfered with Joan's wishes. Initially, the chancery court found that Rosemary's actions in probating the second codicil were in good faith, which meant that the forfeiture provision did not prevent her from inheriting her share of Joan's estate. The chancery court reiterated this factual and legal finding in several orders during the years of contention between the parties. After intervening law from the Mississippi Supreme Court, the chancery court held that the forfeiture provision was unenforceable because it lacked a good faith and probable cause exception. After extended motion practice from Christopher, the chancery court deleted the language from prior orders finding that Rosemary had acted in good faith.

         ¶6. Christopher now appeals, asserting the chancery court erred in: (1) finding that the forfeiture provision was not enforceable against Rosemary; (2) refusing to give the jury interrogatories; (3) allowing Rosemary to use Joan's car while waiting to settle Joan's estate; and (4) allowing Rosemary's former attorneys to intervene.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7. "When reviewing a chancellor's legal findings, particularly involving the interpretation or construction of a will, this Court will apply a de novo standard of review." In re Last Will & Testament of Carney, 758 So.2d 1017, 1019 (ΒΆ8) (Miss. 2000). With respect to other issues in a will contest, "[t]ypically this Court will not disturb a chancellor's findings of fact unless the chancellor was manifestly wrong and not supported by ...


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