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Ivey v. Estate of Ivey

Supreme Court of Alabama

September 8, 2017

Edwyna Ivey
Estate of R.E. Ivey

         Appeal from Monroe Circuit Court (CV-14-900125)

          BRYAN, JUSTICE.

         Edwyna Ivey ("Edwyna") appeals from a judgment of the Monroe Circuit Court ("the trial court") denying her petition for an omitted-spouse share of the estate of her late husband, R.E. Ivey ("R.E."). For the reasons set forth herein, we reverse and remand.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 1975, R.E. executed a will leaving the entirety of his estate to his first wife, Nancy S. Ivey ("Nancy"), or, in the event Nancy preceded him in death, to his and Nancy's four children -- Sharyl I. Eddins ("Sharyl"), William R. Ivey ("Robbie"), Dell Moody ("Dell"), and Ty Ivey ("Ty") (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the children") -- in equal shares. It is undisputed that R.E.'s 1975 will is the only will he ever executed and that he never executed a codicil to that will. Nancy died in 2001, and, in 2004, R.E. married Edwyna. R.E. died on March 26, 2014, survived by Edwyna and the children. On June 27, 2014, Sharyl, as the named executor of R.E.'s will, petitioned the Monroe Probate Court ("the probate court") to admit R.E.'s will to probate. Edwyna then petitioned the probate court for an intestate share of R.E.'s estate pursuant to § 43-8-90, Ala. Code 1975, on the basis that R.E.'s will contained no provision for her.[1] Section 43-8-90, the omitted-spouse statute, provides:

"(a) If a testator fails to provide by will for his surviving spouse who married the testator after the execution of the will, the omitted spouse shall receive the same share of the estate he would have received if the decedent left no will unless it appears from the will that the omission was intentional or the testator provided for the spouse by transfer outside the will and the intent that the transfer be in lieu of a testamentary provision be reasonably proven.
"(b) In satisfying a share provided by this section, the devises made by the will abate as provided in section 43-8-76."

         The probate court admitted R.E.'s will to probate, and, upon petition from Sharyl, the trial court subsequently entered an order removing the administration of R.E.'s estate from the probate court.

         In response to Edwyna's petition, Sharyl argued that Edwyna's omitted-spouse claim was due to be denied on the grounds that R.E. and Edwyna had "a mutual antenuptial agreement ... wherein they each ... agreed that neither would make any affirmative claim in and to the estate of the other" and that R.E. had made "alternative provision[s]" for Edwyna in lieu of a testamentary provision. Specifically, Sharyl alleged that R.E. had provided for Edwyna by transfer outside his will in that (1) he "performed substantial renovation work in [Edwyna's] house in Andalusia, which materially increased the value of her property, " and Edwyna "had no labor cost involved in the work" and (2) he and Edwyna had "established some joint bank accounts with right of survivorship" that, Sharyl contended, "substantially exceeded $100, 000 in total value." On August 8, 2016, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Edwyna's petition, and the testimony and evidence presented at that hearing provided the following relevant facts.

         Although it was undisputed that R.E. and Edwyna did not execute a written antenuptial agreement, Sharyl testified that "there was a verbal agreement made before the marriage, during the marriage, that ... [R.E.'s and Edwyna's] estates were separate." According to Sharyl, before R.E. and Edwyna married, they

"talked about the fact that they had everything planned out, that what was hers would stay hers and what was his would stay his and that that's the way they wanted it. She made the statement that she didn't need anybody's money. She had her own money and could take care of herself."

         Sharyl further testified that she heard R.E. and Edwyna make similar statements "many times" throughout the course of their marriage, and multiple witnesses corroborated Sharyl's testimony. Lance Eddins ("Lance"), Sharyl's son, testified that R.E. and Edwyna's "most prevalent comment was always their affairs were always separated, meaning that her money was hers and his money was his." James Moody, Dell's husband and R.E.'s son-in-law, testified that Edwyna "had made the statement that whatever [R.E. and Nancy] ... had before they got married ... belonged to [R.E.] and [the children], and the only thing [Edwyna] felt like she ... should get ... was anything [she and R.E.] accumulated while they were married." Larry Eddins ("Larry"), Sharyl's husband, testified that "Edwyna would say things like, I'm not getting into [the children's] inheritance or that kind of thing."

         Sharyl also testified to a conversation she had "many times" with R.E. regarding his will:

"I asked him [(R.E.)] ... [D]o you have everything in order; do you have everything like you want it? He said, I do, I do. And I said, so you're okay with everything? You've got everything like you want it? He said, yeah, you know we have told you over and over that what's [Edwyna's] is hers and what is mine is mine and that you know that I have the will ..., and it says exactly what I want it to say."

         Robbie testified to a similar conversation he had had with R.E. a few months before R.E.'s death:

"Q. Did [R.E.] show [the will] to you on that occasion?
"A. Yeah, ... he said, everything is going to be divided up equally between the four kids -- which I'd already known that. And he said, y'all don't need to worry about Edwyna. She's got her few hundred acres, or whatever it is, out in Conecuh County, farmland. She's got the insurance money from her son, and then she's got her retirement and other investments that are out there. She said --basically, the agreement was, you know, what's hers is hers, mine is mine, and she's got plenty to take care of herself.
"Q. Specifically, did he talk about the need or the need not to make a new will?
"A. He had said -- at one point they had talked about making new wills, but both of them said it was too expensive -- back to they're both frugal, and he said, nothing is going to change anyway, so why change it, other than update it with new dates."

         Edwyna disputed the testimony indicating that she and R.E. had agreed that "what was hers would stay hers and what was his would stay his." She testified: "Until this [litigation] c[a]me up, I never heard that statement before. You see, that's all [Sharyl's] relatives that are swearing that that's what we said." Contrary to the testimony indicating that R.E. and Edwyna had agreed that neither of them would be entitled to a share of the other's estate, Edwyna testified that R.E. intended to provide her with a share of his estate but that he had elected not to execute a new will because he believed "the state" would determine Edwyna's share of his estate. According to Edwyna, that belief was based on articles she and R.E. had read in Reader's Digest, a general-interest periodical. Regarding those articles and her and R.E.'s understanding of them, Edwyna testified:

"A. Well, we had the Reader's Digest legal guide, and in there it said that, if somebody died and left a widow -- a second marriage, then the state would determine how much she would get, and it was -- some states is half the estate and some is a fourth. That's what [R.E.] went by and what I went by. [R.E.] asked me, are you satisfied with that? And I said, yes. So he didn't want to go out and spend money for an attorney.
"Q. You and [R.E.] both discussed this and were satisfied with whatever the state law required?
"A. That's right."[2]

         Regarding the provisions R.E. allegedly made for Edwyna by transfers outside the will, it was undisputed that, when R.E. and Edwyna began dating, R.E. lived in his house in Monroeville and Edwyna lived in her house in Andalusia. After they married, R.E. retained his house in Monroeville, but he and Edwyna moved into Edwyna's house (hereinafter referred to as "the marital home") and lived there throughout their marriage. Edwyna executed a will that gave R.E. a life estate in the marital home. According to Sharyl, it "wasn't very far into the marriage" when R.E. asked her if she and Larry would help Edwyna and him remodel the kitchen in the marital home. Sharyl testified that she and Larry were happy to assist with the renovations and that, in fact, she suggested that Edwyna also make other renovations that, Sharyl said, would increase the value of the marital home. Although Edwyna initially resisted making additional renovations, Sharyl testified that "the project got bigger and bigger" until it eventually included a complete remodeling of the kitchen, two bathrooms, and a sunroom; "re-doing" floors; removing doors between the kitchen and the living room "to make it more accessible"; painting; upgrading appliances; and "doing" garage doors. With the exception of the replacement of kitchen cabinets, which Edwyna paid a contractor to replace, Sharyl, Larry, and Robbie provided the labor for the renovations at no charge to Edwyna. However, Sharyl testified that Edwyna attempted to pay Larry and her for their labor but they refused any payment because "that's the way we wanted it. I would like to do that for my dad at anytime and for Edwyna."

         Although Sharyl, Larry, and Robbie provided the bulk of the labor required for the renovations, R.E. and Edwyna purchased the necessary materials. However, there was no evidence of the total cost of the materials, and it was unclear how much of the materials R.E. and Edwyna each purchased separately. Sharyl testified that Edwyna "wanted it to be just her money that paid for [the renovations] because that was her house." However, she also testified that R.E. purchased "some of the things." It was undisputed that the renovations to the marital home increased its value, but there was no evidence as to the actual pre- or post-renovation value of the marital home. Rather, testimony merely indicated that, after the renovations, the marital home was "top-notch" and "pretty close" to "tip-top condition."

         When asked why R.E. wanted to renovate the marital home, Sharyl testified:

"Daddy told me that he wanted [the marital home] left so that, if something happened to him, Edwyna would not be taken by somebody else, kind of like she was on her sun room. And he wanted things to be good and to be working so that she would not be taken by some other person that came along ... to fix something. He wanted it to be more modernized."

         Robbie corroborated Sharyl's testimony regarding R.E.'s motivation for renovating the marital home:

"[Edwyna] had gotten ripped off when she did the screened-in porch, and I think that was kind of the running theme, if something happened to him, he didn't want Edwyna to be ripped off again, so let's get the house in order, get it more upgraded, so that she ...

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