IN THE MATTER OF ESTATE OF ROBERT M. JELINEK, JR., DECEASED MARIE GUSTIN APPELLANT
ANGELA TROTTER APPELLEE
FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FOURTEENTH DIVISION
[NO. 60PR-17-488] HONORABLE VANN SMITH, JUDGE
Richard E. Worsham, for appellant.
Satterfield Law Firm, by: Guy "Randy" Satterfield,
MARK KLAPPENBACH, JUDGE
Marie Gustin appeals the December 11, 2017 order of the
Pulaski County Circuit Court denying her motion to set aside
the February 6, 2017 will of the decedent, Robert Jelinek,
Jr., who died on February 19, 2017. Gustin contended that the
decedent's will was procured by appellee Angela Trotter
and was the product of Trotter's undue influence over the
decedent, but the probate court rejected Gustin's
contentions. On appeal, Gustin argues that the probate court
clearly erred in finding that Trotter did not exert undue
influence over the decedent. We affirm.
review probate matters de novo but will not reverse the
circuit court's findings of fact unless they are clearly
erroneous. Shepherd v. Jones, 2015 Ark.App. 279, 461
S.W.3d 351. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although
there is evidence to support it, the appellate court is left
on the entire evidence with the firm conviction that a
mistake has been committed. Id. We must also defer
to the superior position of the lower court sitting in a
probate matter to weigh the credibility of the witnesses.
Darr v. Billeaudeau, 2018 Ark.App. 16, 541 S.W.3d
evidence presented to the probate court revealed that Jelinek
met Trotter and her husband-to-be, Jimmy Wood, in April or
May 2016. Jelinek, a man in his early sixties, was a widower
with no children; he was described as a free spirit and an
old hippie. His parents were deceased, and his only remaining
relatives were two cousins, one of whom is appellant Gustin.
Jelinek and Gustin had not seen each other in years.
and Trotter met Jelinek because Wood had worked on remodeling
a house in Texas that Jelinek had sold. Trotter and Wood
helped Jelinek move some of his belongings from Houston to
his parents' home in Little Rock, and the three became
close friends. In September 2016, Trotter and Wood moved in
with Jelinek in his Little Rock home. Trotter did all the
household cooking, cleaning, and shopping, and she drove
Jelinek (who did not have a driver's license due to DWIs)
as needed, including to doctor appointments and back and
forth to Texas. Trotter did not work; she received $735 per
month in disability benefits for her bipolar disorder. Wood
did repairs around the house. Neither of them was paid for
these services, but Jelinek provided them a place to live.
November 2016, Jelinek was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
Trotter believed that, up to that point, Jelinek had some
depression, a heavy smoking habit (cigarettes and marijuana),
and a history of alcoholism, but no other major physical or
contacted his attorney, Guy "Randy" Satterfield, to
draft a power of attorney to name Trotter as his
attorney-in-fact. Wood drove Jelinek to the attorney's
office, and Trotter rode with them, but she remained in the
waiting room for the duration of Satterfield's meeting
with his client. This power of attorney was executed on
November 14, 2016.
January 11, 2017, Trotter took Jelinek to the hospital
because he had shortness of breath. Jelinek's primary
diagnosis on admission was pneumonia, but the medical records
revealed additional medical issues, including COPD, septic
shock, his cancer, MRSA, and an acute lower gastrointestinal
bleed. Trotter spent almost all her time with Jelinek during
his hospitalization, leaving only to shower. On February 6,
2017, Jelinek's doctors advised him to get his affairs in
order very soon. He was in respiratory failure due to
end-stage lung disease. Jelinek wrote a note to Trotter to
call Satterfield. Satterfield arrived the same day and
drafted Jelinek's will while Trotter waited in the
hallway. The will was executed the same day, and the two
witnesses were Jelinek's accountant, Deborah Minor, and
Satterfield. Trotter was not present during the signing of
had been the accountant for Jelinek's parents, and she
worked for Jelinek as well. Minor had concerns and suspicions
about Trotter, but in her view, Jelinek never wavered on the
bequests he wanted to make. She recalled a conversation long
before his hospitalization wherein Jelinek said he wanted to
give something to the people who had taken care of his
mother. Minor was confident that when she witnessed the will,
Jelinek understood the contents of the will as written and
that he was competent when he executed it.
said she was unaware that she was a beneficiary, but the
medical notes indicated that Jelinek did inform Trotter that
she would be the beneficiary of his will. Jelinek was
transferred to a hospice facility on February 9, and he died
on February 19, 2017.
informed Satterfield of Jelinek's death, and the will was
read to Trotter and Wood. Trotter was the primary beneficiary
of the will, receiving Jelinek's house in Little Rock and
the residue of his entire estate including a family trust.
Jelinek made other specific bequests to friends, neighbors,
his mother's caretakers, and the caretakers' church,
none of whom had any relationship to Trotter. Trotter filed a
petition to probate the ...