Bratcher v. Bratcher

Decision Date26 December 1991
Docket NumberNo. CA,CA
PartiesGlenn Miller BRATCHER, Jan Daggett Bratcher, Layne Bratcher, Arthur B. Bratcher, Jr., Appellants, v. Norma Jean BRATCHER, Appellee. 91-23.
CourtArkansas Court of Appeals

John Kooistra, Little Rock, for appellants.

William Thomas Baxter, Russell W. Meeks, III, Little Rock, for appellee.

CRACRAFT, Chief Judge.

Appellants Glenn Miller Bratcher, Jan Daggett Bratcher, Layne Bratcher, and Arthur B. Bratcher, Jr., appeal from an order of the Pulaski County Probate Court ordering distribution of certain funds in the estate of their deceased father, Arthur B Bratcher, to appellee Norma Jean Bratcher, his surviving spouse. Appellants make several arguments for reversal, but we do not reach the merits of the case because we have determined that the probate court was wholly without jurisdiction to resolve these issues. In order to understand the decision we have reached, a brief statement of some of the essential background of the matter is necessary.

Arthur Bratcher and Norma Jean Bratcher were married in 1977. At that time, Arthur Bratcher's total net worth consisted of 175 shares of stock in Twin City Beverage Company (TCB) and Twin City Development Company (TCD). Prior to the marriage, the parties entered into an antenuptial agreement under which appellee agreed that in the event of Bratcher's death, she would forego all of her rights as surviving spouse in exchange for a "dower interest in the increase in value [after the date of the marriage] of the husband's surviving ownership interest" in those two corporations. The agreement also awarded her several other items that are not in dispute here. In 1979, Bratcher sold all but twenty-five shares of his interest in the two corporations for $500,000.00 in cash and a promissory note for $1,800,000.00 bearing interest at the rate of ten percent. He also received other related benefits that were not involved in this litigation. The remaining shares of TCB and TCD were converted into stock of D & F Corporation and finally into stock certificates representing seventy percent of the stock in White River Beverage Company. In 1982, Bratcher created a revocable trust to which the bulk of his assets, including the White River Beverage Company stock, were eventually transferred. Appellants, Bratcher's children by a former marriage, were named as beneficiaries of the trust in the event of his death. No provision was made for appellee in that trust.

In 1988, Bratcher died leaving a will that contained no provision for appellee but left his entire estate to his children. Appellee filed a petition in probate court electing to take against the will. The decedent's children contested the petition, setting up the antenuptial agreement as a bar to her right to so elect. The probate court ruled that the agreement was valid and enforceable and served as a complete bar to appellee's right to elect to take against the will. That ruling is not challenged on appeal.

Subsequently, appellee filed a motion seeking to have the probate court interpret the antenuptial agreement and set out with specificity the amounts to which she was entitled thereunder. The probate court held hearings on these issues, and by subsequent orders found that all of the assets of the estate at the time of death were traceable to the proceeds of the sale of the TCB and TCD stock. The court then determined the value of the stock as of the date of the marriage and the increase in value since that date, and directed the executor to pay appellee one-third of the amount of that increase in value, plus interest from the date of the decedent's death. The probate court further determined that the White River Beverage Company stock, then in the hands of a trustee (who was not named as a party in the action), was also traceable to the proceeds of the TCB and TCD stock. The probate judge directed that the White River stock be obtained by the executor, that it be sold, and that one-third of the proceeds be delivered to appellee in accordance with the antenuptial agreement as he had interpreted it. He further ordered the executor to reimburse appellee for the expense incurred by her in obtaining the experts who assisted her in tracing and evaluating the assets involved, and calculating their value.

The order of the probate court determining that the contract was a valid one and effectively barred appellee's right to elect to take against the will was within the jurisdiction of the probate court and has not been appealed. However, we conclude that all the provisions of the subsequent order with respect to the tracing of assets mentioned in the agreement and the award to appellee, calculated on the value of those assets, were wholly outside the jurisdiction of the probate court and void.

It has long been established that the probate court is a court of limited jurisdiction and has only such jurisdiction and powers as are conferred on it by the constitution or by statute, or are necessarily incident thereto. The extent of the jurisdiction of the probate court to resolve controversies between the personal representative and third persons or...

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8 cases
  • Desoto Gathering Co. v. Hill
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • November 30, 2017
    ...317 Ark. 28, 875 S.W.2d 504 (1994) ; Head v. Caddo Hills School District, 277 Ark. 482, 644 S.W.2d 246 (1982) ; Bratcher v. Bratcher, 36 Ark. App. 206, 821 S.W.2d 481 (1991) (subject-matter jurisdiction is always open, cannot be waived, and can be raised by this court sua sponte)." Am. Abst......
  • American Abstract and Title Co. v. Rice
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2004
    ...317 Ark. 28, 875 S.W.2d 504 (1994); Head v. Caddo Hills School District, 277 Ark. 482, 644 S.W.2d 246 (1982); Bratcher v. Bratcher, 36 Ark.App. 206, 821 S.W.2d 481 (1991) (subject-matter jurisdiction is always open, cannot be waived, and can be raised by this court sua sponte). Therefore, w......
  • Craig v. Craig
    • United States
    • Arkansas Court of Appeals
    • October 17, 2018
    ...the AA recognized the will as canceled. We disagree with appellant's contention. The circuit court, relying on Bratcher v. Bratcher , 36 Ark. App. 206, 821 S.W.2d 481 (1991), held that Cheryl had no standing to seek probate of the LWT in the intestate estate or to seek appointment as admini......
  • Smith v. Smith, 98-1306
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • September 16, 1999
    ...stranger, as theprobate court lacks jurisdiction in either case. Ellsworth, 204 Ark. 756, 165 S.W.2d 57; Bratcher v. Bratcher, 36 Ark. App. 206, 821 S.W.2d 481 (1991). This court has defined a "stranger" to the estate as one who is not an heir, distributee or devisee of the decedent, or a b......
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