When Should a Temporary Administrator be Appointed?
September 17, 2014 § 2 Comments
MCA 91-7-53 allows the court in a will contest, on filing of a petition by an interested person, to appoint a temporary administrator if necessary to protect the rights of the parties.
In the case of Parker v. Benoist, decided August 28, 2014, the MSSC was confronted with the question whether the chancellor should have appointed a temporary administrator in a will contest. We talked about this case previously in connection with in terrorem clauses.
Bronwyn Parker filed a contest in connection with the will of her father, B.D. Benoist. She also filed a motion to remove her brother, William, from his position as executor, claiming that he had appropriated most of B.D.’s assets for himself through undue influence before B.D.’s death, and that he had unduly influenced his father in the making of the will being contested. She contended that a previous will, executed in 1998, was her father’s true, valid will. Because William was defending the will from which he benefited, and which Bronwyn argued should be set aside, William should be removed as fiduciary.
The chancellor overruled Bronwyn’s motion, finding that there were factual issues which were “strongly disputed between the parties,” and that “[t]here [wa]s no uncontested evidence for the Court to remove William D. Benoist as the Executor of the Last Will and Testament of Billy Dean ‘B.D.’ Benoist.”
Bronwyn appealed, charging that it was error for the trial judge to refuse to remove William.
The MSSC affirmed on the point. Justice Kitchens wrote for the court:
¶26. “[W]henever a last will and testament shall be contested, the chancery court or chancellor in vacation, on petition of any interested person, may appoint a temporary administrator if it shall appear necessary for the protection of the rights of the parties. . . .” Miss. Code Ann. § 91-7-53 (Rev. 2013). Chancellors have wide discretion in appointing a new executor in a will contest, and this Court “should not reverse his action unless there is clear evidence of abuse of that discretion.” Sandifer v. Sandifer, 237 Miss. 464, 469, 115 So.2d 46, 48 (1959). On appeal, Bronwyn essentially reiterates the facts that she believes necessitated a finding by the chancellor that a new executor should be appointed–substantial gifts from B.D. to William before B.D.’s death and William’s mismanagement and depletion of estate assets after B.D.’s death. She argues that, because the jury found that William was in a confidential relationship with B.D., there was a presumption of undue influence.
¶27. We find that the chancellor did not abuse his discretion in denying Bronwyn’s petition to remove William as executor. The chancellor considered all of the arguments Bronwyn has made on appeal and determined that the circumstances did not warrant the appointment of a new executor. We cannot say the chancellor was manifestly wrong or that he abused his discretion. We are slightly troubled, however, by the wording of the chancellor’s order denying Bronwyn’s petition. The chancellor stated that there was no “uncontested evidence” that would justify removing William as the executor. It is not required that there be uncontested evidence to justify the removal of an executor. All that is required is that the chancellor determine, in his or her discretion, that it is necessary to remove the current executor to protect the rights of the parties to the will contest. See Miss. Code Ann. § 91-7-53 (Rev. 2013). “Nowhere does the statute say that before he may appoint a temporary administrator he must find that the executor named in the will is disqualified or has been guilty of misconduct in office.” Sandifer, 115 So. 2d at 47-48. We clarify that chancellors enjoy wide discretion in granting or denying requests to remove an executor, and that a party is not required to present “uncontested evidence” to succeed in such a petition. Bronwyn’s claim of error on this issue, however, is without merit.
To put it in simpler terms: even though the chancellor followed the wrong road map, he arrived at the right destination, so no reversal.
What jumps out from this case is that it is not enough for the executor and the contestant to be pitted against one another in the litigation. Nor is it enough that the executor have a stake in the outcome. You have to convince the chancellor that that removal is necessary to protect the interests of the parties to the litigation. Even then, it is within the chancellor’s discretion, and to reverse his decision on appeal, you must convince the appellate court that he was manifestly wrong or abused his discretion.