OF JUDGMENT: 11/16/2017
HANCOCK COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. SANFORD R. STECKLER TRIAL
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MICHAEL JOSEPH YENTZEN
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: CLEMENT S. BENVENUTTI
BARNES, C.J., GREENLEE AND LAWRENCE, JJ.
Peter and Dorothea Kolf were married on June 14, 2008. The
couple executed a premarital agreement (Agreement),
indicating their intent to keep assets acquired prior to
marriage as separate property. The Agreement also provided
that the couple would maintain a joint account for their
living expenses. The couple established two joint
accounts-one at The First Bank and one at Hancock Bank.
Dorothea's income (her social security and pension) went
into The First Bank account; Peter's income went into the
Hancock Bank account. Dorothea also had an individual savings
account with Keesler Credit Union (Keesler). On August 7,
2008, Dorothea executed a durable power of attorney
appointing Peter as her attorney-in-fact for financial
Dorothea was diagnosed with lung cancer in March 2016. In May
2016, she discontinued chemotherapy treatment and began
hospice care. Peter withdrew $5, 000 from Dorothea's
Fidelity Investments (Fidelity) IRA in June 2016 and another
$20, 000 in August 2016, reportedly because Dorothea had
recently turned 70½ and was required to take a minimum
required distribution (MRD) under the IRA's terms. Of the
money withdrawn, $15, 500 was deposited into the joint
account at The First Bank; the remaining $9, 500 went to the
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for taxes. Peter did
transfer $3, 250 from the first MRD to Dorothea's Keesler
account in June 2016.
Dorothea died on September 3, 2016, and her son, Stan
Authement, was appointed as executor under the terms of her
will shortly thereafter. Authement filed a motion to compel
the return of estate assets and other relief with the Hancock
County Chancery Court on November 8, 2016, asserting that the
IRA funds transferred to the joint account at The First Bank
belonged to the estate, not Peter, and requesting that Peter
provide an inventory of all estate assets from Dorothea's
home. The motion also contended certain personal
property-a diamond ring that had belonged to Peter's
first wife and new home appliances-constituted gifts to
Dorothea from Peter and were, therefore, estate assets. On
January 12, 2017, Peter filed a probate claim, requesting $4,
219 for funds expended for Dorothea's funeral expenses.
He also filed an estate accounting.
On March 24, 2017, the chancery court entered an "Order
Freezing Assets of Estate, Compelling Inventory and
Accounting and Other Relief," nunc pro tunc to January
23, 2017. The order required Peter to provide an accounting
of all funds held or expended from The First Bank account
from January 1, 2016, to the date of the accounting. Although
the order prohibited Peter from filing a joint tax return for
2016, he did file a joint tax return on March 5, 2017; so
Authement filed a motion for contempt on May 17, 2017, and a
motion for attorney's fees.
Hearings were held on June 15, 2017, and September 14, 2017.
On June 29, 2017, the chancery court ordered that the funds
in the Keesler savings account be distributed to the
account's beneficiary, Stephanie Skojac, Dorothea's
The chancery court entered a final judgment on November 16,
2017, that Dorothea lacked the capacity to make informed
decisions after May 1, 2016. Therefore, the IRA funds ($25,
000) withdrawn from Dorothea's IRA account "must be
returned" to the estate, minus $8, 511.37 in legitimate
expenditures, for a total award of $16, 488.63 to
Dorothea's estate. The chancery court also held that the
diamond ring and the appliances were part of the estate.
Because Peter was found in contempt for filing the 2016 tax
return, he was ordered to pay $900 in attorney's fees for
the contempt, as well as one-half of Authement's
attorney's fees ($5, 240.50) "resulting from his
wrongful acts in depriving the estate of estate assets."
Peter appeals the judgment. Finding the court erred in
failing to award Peter credit for monies he transferred to
Dorothea's Keesler account, we reverse and render in
part, but affirm in all other respects.
Our review of a chancery court's judgment is limited.
Whitley v. Love (In re Estate of
Whitley), 129 So.3d 260, 262 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App.
2013) (citing Howard v. Gunnell, 63 So.3d 589, 597
(¶16) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011)). We will not disturb the
chancery court's decision on appeal absent a finding that
the court was "manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous, or
the [court] applied an erroneous legal standard."
Id. Questions of law, however, are reviewed de novo.
Id. (citing Rousseau v. Rousseau, 910 So.2d
1214, 1217 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2005)).
Whether the chancery court erred in awarding the
Appellee the IRA funds from The First Bank joint
Dorothea's Ability to ...