Bennett v. Estate of James Kelly KingAnnotate this Case
Central to this case was a dispute between two daughters and a stepdaughter of the testatrix, Jacquelin Stevenson, who died in 2007. She was survived by six children: four from her marriage to Thomas Stevenson, a son by a former marriage, and a stepdaughter. The testatrix's two sons by Stevenson, Thomas and Daniel, stole millions from the estate while co-trustees from 1996 to 2006, thereby forfeiting any rights they had to take under their mother's will and leaving Jacquelin and Kathleen as the personal representatives. The theft by Thomas and Daniel left the estate with insufficient monies remaining to fund specific bequests of $400,000 each to the two stepchildren of the marriage. Further, the bequest of a Lake Summit property to the two sons failed, sending it to the residuary, and because no amendment by codicil preceded the testatrix's demise, after acquired properties passed through the residuary as well. The residuary clause provided that "[a]ll the rest, residue and remainder of my property and estate . . . I give, devise and bequeath to Kathleen S. Turner, Jacquelin S. Bennett, Thomas C. Stevenson, III, Daniel R. Stevenson, James Kelly King, and Genevieve S. Felder in equal shares." The probate court, the circuit court, and the court of appeals all interpreted this to mean in equal ownership interests rather than equal monetary values. Just as the language of the residuary clause was relevant to the resolution of this dispute, so was section 10 of the will, which set forth the powers of the personal representatives and expressly stated the testatrix's intention to give broad discretion and flexibility to her personal representatives. The probate judge, the circuit court, and the court of appeals all determined the broad powers did not govern distributions of the residual estate. Also, the court of appeals affirmed the probate court's finding that the personal representatives' conduct constituted a breach of fiduciary duty. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the court of appeals erred and reversed.