“Five adopted children, who say their stepmother maliciously removed them from the massive estate of late Astec Industries CEO J. Don Brock, are heading to the highest Tennessee court to argue their case.”
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported in “Tennessee Supreme Court agrees to hear J. Don Brock estate challenge,” that the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed in March to hear whether Melissa Sue Brock Adcock, Krystal Gail Brock Parker, Jennifer Rebecca Brock, Daryl Williams Brock and Walter Edward Brock were purposely disinherited from their father's will, when he died of mesothelioma in 2015.
The children’s two attorneys claim that J. Don Brock drew up different wills in 1994, 1998, and 2006 that excluded the children at different times. They argued that a 2012 draft and a 2013 final will don’t mention the children, because their father's former secretary and second wife Sammye wanted to preserve the "assets and reputation of Astec Industries."
However, that argument was dismissed since Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton applied a 110-year-old Tennessee Supreme Court decision in February 2016. He held that the children couldn't contest the 2013 will, since they weren't included in the 2012 draft.
The ancient but still valid decision is known as the Cowan Rule, a focal point of the case. The five adopted children claim that the different wills show undue influence over time and argue that Cowan prevents them from getting those wills into evidence. It also allows a "bad actor" to commit fraud. Sammye’s attorney argued that other state courts developed rules similar to Cowan to prevent people from holding estates “hostage” through litigation.
The attorneys named several Tennessee will cases that were impacted by Cowan in their brief to the Court of Appeals in Knoxville in 2016. In one case, a father disinherited several heirs from wills executed in 1997 and 1998. However, the contesting heirs showed the court three previous wills that left them each $10. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals held that $10 wasn't a "substantial enough" interest.
The 2006 will shows J. Don Brock leaving $800,000 each to Melissa, Krystal, and Jennifer.
In another will contest, 13 heirs attempted to challenge a will that never included them and the estate said that none of them was in previous wills. However, the heirs replied that an earlier version of the will left the estate to a trust that hadn’t been legally established at the time. The Court of Appeals said the heirs could challenge that will in 2000.
Reference: Times Free Press (March 21, 2017) “Tennessee Supreme Court agrees to hear J. Don Brock estate challenge”