Hanahan v. Simpson

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtWALLER; FINNEY
Citation326 S.C. 140,485 S.E.2d 903
Decision Date23 December 1987
PartiesMary Elizabeth Simpson HANAHAN, Appellant, v. Kate McArver SIMPSON, Lucy Caroline Bowden Simpson Kuhne and Hazel Claire M. Efird Russo, each individually, as Personal Representatives, and as Trustees; Katharine Efird Sullivan, Individually and as Representative of the Descendants, known and unknown, born and unborn, of Mary Elizabeth Simpson Hanahan; John A. Kuhne, Jr., Individually and as Representative of the Descendants, known and unknown, born and unborn, of Lucy Caroline Bowden Simpson Kuhne; William D.S. Kuhne; Lucy Caroline B. Kuhne; and Willou Bichel, Respondents. Kate McArver SIMPSON, Lucy Bowden Simpson Kuhne, Individually and as Personal Representatives and as Trustees, and Hazel Claire M. Efird Russo, as Personal Representative and as Trustee, Third-Party Plaintiffs, v. Mary Elizabeth Simpson HANAHAN; John A. Kuhne, Jr., Individually and as Representative of the Descendants, known and unknown, born and unborn, of Lucy Caroline Bowden Simpson Kuhne; William D.S. Kuhne; Lucy Caroline B. Kuhne; John A. Kuhne, individually; Willou Bichel, individually, and as Trustee of The Simpson Foundation and Nell Rice, Frances Dudley, Wilma Johnson, Claire E. Russo, and J.A. Kuhne, as all members of the Board of Advisors to the Simpson Foundation, Third-Party Defendants. In the Matter of ESTATE OF William Henry Belk SIMPSON and the Alleged Will of William Henry Belk Simpson Dated

Page 903

485 S.E.2d 903
326 S.C. 140
Mary Elizabeth Simpson HANAHAN, Appellant,
v.
Kate McArver SIMPSON, Lucy Caroline Bowden Simpson Kuhne and
Hazel Claire M. Efird Russo, each individually, as Personal
Representatives, and as Trustees; Katharine Efird Sullivan,
Individually and as Representative of the Descendants, known
and unknown, born and unborn, of Mary Elizabeth Simpson
Hanahan; John A. Kuhne, Jr., Individually and as
Representative of the Descendants, known and unknown, born
and unborn, of Lucy Caroline Bowden Simpson Kuhne; William
D.S. Kuhne; Lucy Caroline B. Kuhne; and Willou Bichel,
Respondents.
Kate McArver SIMPSON, Lucy Bowden Simpson Kuhne,
Individually and as Personal Representatives and as
Trustees, and Hazel Claire M. Efird Russo, as Personal
Representative and as Trustee, Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
Mary Elizabeth Simpson HANAHAN; John A. Kuhne, Jr.,
Individually and as Representative of the Descendants, known
and unknown, born and unborn, of Lucy Caroline Bowden
Simpson Kuhne; William D.S. Kuhne; Lucy Caroline B. Kuhne;
John A. Kuhne, individually; Willou Bichel, individually,
and as Trustee of The Simpson Foundation and Nell Rice,
Frances Dudley, Wilma Johnson, Claire E. Russo, and J.A.
Kuhne, as all members of the Board of Advisors to the
Simpson Foundation, Third-Party Defendants.
In the Matter of ESTATE OF William Henry Belk SIMPSON and
the Alleged Will of William Henry Belk Simpson
Dated December 23, 1987, and Prior
Submitted Wills.
No. 24617.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard Jan. 9, 1997.
Decided May 12, 1997.
Rehearing Denied June 19, 1997.

Page 906

[326 S.C. 146] Thomas H. Pope, III and Gary T. Pope, both of Pope and Hudgens, Newberry; Adele Jeffords Pope, Columbia; Jay Bender, of Baker, Barwick, Ravenel and Bender, Columbia; Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., and Timothy W. Bouch, both of Young, Clement, Rivers and Tisdale, Charleston, for appellant.

R. David Massey, Chris B. Roberts and Arnold L. Ashley, all of Brown, Massey, Evans and McLeod, Greenville; and John A. Hagins, Jr., of Covington, Patrick, Hagins and Lewis, Greenville, for respondents Kate M. Simpson, Lucy Kuhne and Hazel Russo, as personal representatives, etc.

Elizabeth Van Doren Gray, of Glenn, Murphy, Gray and Stepp, Columbia, for Respondent Hazel Claire Russo and Katharine Efird Sullivan.

Jefferson V. Smith, Jr., and S. Brook Fowler, both of Carter, Smith, Merriam, Rogers and Traxler, Greer, for Respondents John Kuhne, Jr., William Kuhne and Lucy C. Kuhne.

G. Dewey Oxner, Jr., of Haynsworth, Marion, McKay and Geurard, Greenville, for Respondent Kate McArver Simpson, individually.

WALLER, Justice:

This is a will contest over the $48 million dollar estate of the late William Henry Belk Simpson (decedent/Simpson). Simpson's daughter,Mary Elizabeth Simpson Hanahan (Hanahan) challenged his will on grounds of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, fraud and mistake. After a jury trial, the will was upheld, and Hanahan was assessed sanctions under the South Carolina Frivolous Proceedings Act, S.C.Code Ann. § 15-36-10 et seq. (Supp.1995). We affirm in part, reverse in part.

FACTS

Simpson died May 17, 1992 at the age of 84. He was survived by his wife, Kate McArver Simpson (Mrs. Simpson), two daughters, Lucy Simpson Kuhne(Kuhne) and Hanahan, and five grandchildren.

[326 S.C. 147] Between 1970 and 1987, Simpson executed approximately 10 wills; his final will was executed on December 23, 1987 (December will). The December will leaves Simpson's estate in trust, with the income to Mrs. Simpson for life,and gives Mrs. Simpson a special power of appointment permitting her, through her own will, to leave one-half of the estate to each of her daughters, or to by-pass them by leaving one-half of the residue of the

Page 907

estate to their children. 1 The purpose of the special power of appointment is to enable Mrs. Simpson to take advantage of any changes in tax laws which might occur prior to her death. If Mrs. Simpson fails to exercise the special power through her own will, the remainder of Simpson's estate goes upon her death, one-half to Kuhne outright (or her children if Kuhne predeceases), one-half in trust to Hanahan (or her children if she predeceases).

Hanahan brought this action challenging the December will, claiming it was the product of fraud, mistake, undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity. In particular, Hanahan challenged the December will's special power of appointment permitting her mother to omit her entirely. Hanahan alleged a history of family troubles, particularly with her mother, dating back to the 1960's when, during her divorce from her husband Claude Efird,her mother and father favored Efird for custody of their two children. She claimed the will provision was the result of undue influence over her father, and that Simpson was mistaken concerning the special power in his will.

After a two week trial, a directed verdict was granted on the claims of fraud and mistake. The jury returned a verdict against Hanahan on the claims of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity.

Thereafter, the respondents sought sanctions against Hanahan pursuant to the South Carolina Frivolous Civil Proceedings Act. After a hearing, Hanahan was ordered to pay [326 S.C. 148] respondents' attorneys fees and costs in the amount of $548,317.38. 2

ISSUES

1. Did the court err in directing a verdict as to mistake?

2. Did the court err in refusing to apply the Dead Man's Statute?

3. Did the court improperly admit evidence of Hanahan's prior bad acts?

4. Did the court err in imposing sanctions against Hanahan?

1. MISTAKE

Hanahan contends Simpson was mistaken as to the contents of his will, in particular, the special power of appointment in favor of Mrs. Simpson. Accordingly, she asserts the trial court erred in directing a verdict against her on the issue of mistake. We disagree.

It is the general rule that the validity of a will is not affected by a mistake of either law or fact unless a mistake goes to the identity of the instrument or to fundamental error, as where, for example, two wills are drafted for different persons and one party signs that intended for another. Ex parte King, 132 S.C. 63, 128 S.E. 850 (1925). See also Page on Wills, § 13.4 at pp. 666-667 (1960); Thompson Law of Wills, § 135 (1916); 79 Am.Jur.2d Wills § 415. Where a testator is mistaken as to the contents of his will, the will may be invalidated in part. Ex parte King, supra. The contestant has the burden of proof as to any alleged invalidity once due execution of the challenged will is proved. Byrd v. Byrd, 279 S.C. 425, 308 S.E.2d 788 (1983); Calhoun v. Calhoun, 277 S.C. [326 S.C. 149] 527, 290 S.E.2d 415 (1982). Evidence the will was read to the testator gives rise to a rebuttable presumption the testator knew and approved its contents.

Page 908

Id. 3 A mistake as to the legal effect of language in the will is no basis for refusal of probate, even if caused by incorrect legal advice. Karesh, Wills, p. 27 (1977). See also Atkinson, supra at § 58 (where there is no mistake as to what the will contains but testator merely misconceives the legal effect of the language, no grounds for rejection of the will or any part thereof); Thompson, supra at § 136 (will may not be denied because testator did not understand the legal effect of the provisions of his will).

In reviewing a directed verdict, this Court must determine whether a verdict for the party opposing the motion would have been reasonably possible under the facts. First State Savings and Loan v. Phelps, 299 S.C. 441, 385 S.E.2d 821 (1989). The issue must be submitted to a jury whenever there is material evidence tending to establish the issue in the mind of a reasonable juror. Wright v. Gilbert, 227 S.C. 334, 88 S.E.2d 72 (1955); Gosnell v. SCDHPT, 282 S.C. 526, 320 S.E.2d 454 (Ct.App.1984). However, this rule does not authorize submission of speculative, theoretical and hypothetical views to the jury. We have repeatedly recognized that when only one reasonable inference can be deduced from the evidence, the question becomes one of law for the court. Bell v. Bank of Abbeville, 211 S.C. 167, 44 S.E.2d 328 (1947). A corollary of this rule is that verdicts may not be permitted to rest upon surmise, conjecture or speculation. Bultman v. Barber, 277 S.C. 5, 281 S.E.2d 791 (1981); Tallon v. Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Co., 270 S.C. 362, 242 S.E.2d 418 (1978);Horton v. Greyhound Corporation, 241 S.C. 430, 128 S.E.2d 776 (1962).

[326 S.C. 150] Here, there is simply no evidence Simpson was not aware of the special power of appointment in his will. On the contrary, his attorney, Vincent Brown, testified the December will contained very few changes, one of which was the special power, that he had gone over the will with Mr. and Mrs. Simpson for approximately one hour, and that Mr. Simpson liked the special power as it gave Mrs. Simpson the ability to avoid tax liability in the event of a change in the law. Brown also testified Simpson had had powers of appointment in many of his prior wills. 4 Additionally, Simpson's CPA, Edwin Robinson, testified that in February, 1988, he pointed out the power of appointment to Simpson who responded that he was aware of the provision. Finally, there was testimony Simpson had discussed the provision with a family friend in Montreat, North Carolina.

The only reasonable inference to be deduced from the record is that Simpson was advised of and was aware of the special power. Although Hanahan's evidence may be susceptible of the inference that Simpson did not have a very good understanding of the provision, or that he was unlikely to remember it for any length of time, there is simply no evidence he was "mistaken" about it. Simpson's allegedly declining competency is simply insufficient grounds upon which to invalidate the provision. Accordingly, we find the trial court properly directed a verdict against Hanahan on this...

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80 practice notes
  • Estate of Haley ex rel. Haley v. Brown, No. 4140.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 24, 2006
    ...However, this rule does not authorize submission of speculative, theoretical, and hypothetical views to the jury. Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 485 S.E.2d 903 (1997); Proctor, 368 S.C. at 292-93, 628 S.E.2d at When this court reviews a trial court's grant or denial of a motion for direc......
  • Proctor v. Dept. of Health, No. 4098.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 20, 2006
    ...However, this rule does not authorize submission of speculative, theoretical, and hypothetical views to the jury. Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 149, 485 S.E.2d 903, 908 (1997); Small v. Pioneer Mach., Inc., 329 S.C. 448, 461, 494 S.E.2d 835, 841 (Ct.App.1997). In essence, the court must......
  • Williamson v. Middleton, No. 4243.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 7, 2007
    ...of review. During oral argument, Williamson urged us to apply either an equitable standard of review pursuant to Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 485 S.E.2d 903 (1997), or an abuse of discretion standard of review pursuant to Russell v. Wachovia, 370 S.C. 5, 633 S.E.2d 722 (2006).2 In eith......
  • State v. Douglas, No. 4075.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 23, 2006
    ...Vaught v. A.O. Hardee & Sons, Inc., 366 S.C. 475, 623 S.E.2d 373 (2005); Fields, 363 S.C. at 26, 609 S.E.2d at 509; Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 485 S.E.2d 903 (1997); Ellis v. Davidson, 358 S.C. 509, 595 S.E.2d 817 (Ct.App.2004). To show prejudice, there must be a reasonable probabili......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
80 cases
  • Estate of Haley ex rel. Haley v. Brown, No. 4140.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 24, 2006
    ...However, this rule does not authorize submission of speculative, theoretical, and hypothetical views to the jury. Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 485 S.E.2d 903 (1997); Proctor, 368 S.C. at 292-93, 628 S.E.2d at When this court reviews a trial court's grant or denial of a motion for direc......
  • Proctor v. Dept. of Health, No. 4098.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 20, 2006
    ...However, this rule does not authorize submission of speculative, theoretical, and hypothetical views to the jury. Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 149, 485 S.E.2d 903, 908 (1997); Small v. Pioneer Mach., Inc., 329 S.C. 448, 461, 494 S.E.2d 835, 841 (Ct.App.1997). In essence, the court must......
  • Williamson v. Middleton, No. 4243.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 7, 2007
    ...of review. During oral argument, Williamson urged us to apply either an equitable standard of review pursuant to Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 485 S.E.2d 903 (1997), or an abuse of discretion standard of review pursuant to Russell v. Wachovia, 370 S.C. 5, 633 S.E.2d 722 (2006).2 In eith......
  • State v. Douglas, No. 4075.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 23, 2006
    ...Vaught v. A.O. Hardee & Sons, Inc., 366 S.C. 475, 623 S.E.2d 373 (2005); Fields, 363 S.C. at 26, 609 S.E.2d at 509; Hanahan v. Simpson, 326 S.C. 140, 485 S.E.2d 903 (1997); Ellis v. Davidson, 358 S.C. 509, 595 S.E.2d 817 (Ct.App.2004). To show prejudice, there must be a reasonable probabili......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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