Supreme Court Agrees with Trial Court That Spouses’ Contract Invalidated Later Will

March 22, 2013

The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld a trial court’s decision invalidating a will because the will was contrary to a contract between the maker of the will and her deceased husband.

Roy Brown, Jr. and Ina Brown were married in the 1980s. Both of them had children from previous marriages. In June 2002, the Browns signed a contract agreeing to make wills that provided for all their children. They also agreed that they would not change their wills after one of them died. On the same day they signed the contract, the Browns signed new wills in accordance with their agreement.

Mr. Brown died six days after executing his will. Nine days later, Ms. Brown executed a new will that was different from her previous will. Ms. Brown died in 2003. After Ms. Brown’s son filed his mother’s last will for probate in the Chancery Court for Knox County, Mr. Brown’s children challenged the will because it violated Ms. Brown’s contract with their father. Ms. Brown’s son responded that the trial court did not have the authority to consider the claim that his mother’s will violated her contract with her late husband, and that the contract was unenforceable.

Following a hearing, the trial court decided that it had authority to try the dispute and that the Browns’ contract to make their wills was valid and enforceable. Accordingly, the trial court decided that Ms. Brown’s last will was invalid and that the will she signed before her husband died was valid. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision.

Today, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals. The Court decided that the trial court had jurisdiction to hear the challenge filed by Mr. Brown’s children to Ms. Brown’s last will and that the challenge was not filed too late. The Court also decided that the contract between the Browns to make wills was enforceable and that Ms. Brown’s last will was not enforceable because it violated her contract with her deceased husband. Chief Justice Gary R. Wade wrote a separate concurring opinion.

Visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov to read the In re Estate of Brown opinion, authored by Justice William C. Koch, Jr. and the concurring opinion by Chief Justice Wade.