In Re: Estate of J. Don Brock

In Re: Estate of J. Don Brock
E2016-00637-SC-R11-CV

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether the contestants—five of the decedent’s seven children—have standing to bring this will contest. The contestants were expressly disinherited by a will dated October 1, 2013, and admitted to probate and by a prior will, dated October 11, 2012, produced during this litigation. The trial court dismissed this will contest for lack of standing, concluding that two prior decisions of this Court—Cowan v. Walker, 96 S.W. 967 (Tenn. 1906) and Jennings v. Bridgeford, 403 S.W.2d 289 (Tenn. 1966)—required the dismissal. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Although we agree with the courts below that Cowan and Jennings include imprecise language that could be viewed as establishing a broad, bright-line rule that persons disinherited by facially valid successive wills lack standing, we conclude that those decisions are factually distinct and did not announce such a broad rule. We reaffirm the general rule, long recognized in Tennessee, that to establish standing a contestant must show that he or she would be entitled to share in the decedent’s estate if the will were set aside or if no will existed. The contestants here have satisfied this requirement by showing that they would share in the decedent’s estate under the laws of intestacy and under prior wills. Thus, the judgments of the trial court and Court of Appeals dismissing this will contest for lack of standing are reversed, and this matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision. 

Authoring Judge: 
Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Originating Judge: 
Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton
Date Filed: 
Wednesday, November 22, 2017