FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT
Gean & Gean, by: Roy Gean III, for appellant.
Sbanotto, a Professional Corporation, by: Dennis Sbanotto,
HONORABLE ANNIE HENDRICKS, JUDGE
J. GLADWIN, JUDGE
Noble appeals the Sebastian County Circuit Court's April
18, 2018 order appointing administrator of the estate of Earl
Leon Neal (decedent). On appeal, she argues that the circuit
court erroneously recognized appellee Earl L. Neal, Jr., as
decedent's sole heir. We affirm.
October 17, 2017, Clyde A. Neal filed a petition for
administration of the estate of decedent-Juanita and
Clyde's brother, who died on September 16,
2017. Listed in the petition as heirs of
decedent were four sisters, including Juanita; Clyde; two
nieces; and a nephew. On November 9, 2017, Earl L. Neal, Jr.
("Butch"), filed a response alleging that he was
decedent's illegitimate son and only child. He cited
Arkansas Code Annotated section 28-9-209(d) (Repl. 2012) and
claimed that decedent had made a written acknowledgment of
him in the form of the Whirlpool Corporation
"Beneficiary Designation-Retirement Death Benefit,"
dated July 1, 2016 thus allowing him to inherit from
decedent's estate. He alleged that the designation, which
was attached to his response, was prepared by decedent,
completed and signed by him, and describes Butch by name,
Social Security number, relationship as "son,"
address, phone number, birth date, and gender. Butch also
filed an affidavit to claim against the estate on November 9,
asserting that as decedent's only child, he is entitled
to inherit all of decedent's real and personal property.
March 20, 2018, Butch filed a brief in support of his claim
against the estate, and on April 18, Juanita filed her
objection. She argued that pursuant to section 28-9-209(d),
Butch had 180 days from the date of decedent's death to
commence and conclude his claim. She relied on Bell v.
McDonald, 2014 Ark. 75, 432 S.W.3d 18, which she argued
stands for the proposition that within the allotted 180 days,
not only must the claim be filed but must also be judicially
determined within said 180 days. Juanita also disputed that
the beneficiary-designation form was a "written
acknowledgment" in terms of the statute because it was
not witnessed, notarized, or "acknowledged."
hearing on the competing claims, Juanita testified that she
and decedent were five years apart in age and were close,
having grown up together. She said that she was not aware of
any children of decedent and had seen Butch only once in her
lifetime, at decedent's funeral. Clyde testified that he
too had been close to decedent and had daily communication
with him for fifteen years prior to his death. He said he had
seen Butch three times-one time being at the funeral.
testified that he is fifty years old and had lived in
Texarkana, Arkansas, for the last forty years. He said that
his birth certificate lists decedent as his father, but it
was not signed by decedent. He said that the
beneficiary-designation form from Whirlpool displays his
Social Security number and correct date of birth. He said
that at no time did he believe someone other than decedent
was his father. He said that he was twenty-two years old when
he first met decedent in 1990, and he had been in touch with
him occasionally since that time.
April 18, 2018, the circuit court appointed Butch as
administrator of decedent's estate, finding that he was
decedent's illegitimate son under the requirements of
section 28-9-209(d)(2), having asserted a claim against the
estate within 180 days and met the condition requiring a
written acknowledgment stating that decedent is Butch's
father. The circuit court found that Butch was the sole heir
and entitled to the entirety of decedent's estate. This
appeal timely followed.
we review probate proceedings de novo, we do not reverse the
circuit court's findings unless they are clearly
erroneous. Burns v. Estate of Cole, 364 Ark. 280,
219 S.W.3d 134 (2005). We also review issues of statutory
interpretation de novo and are not bound by the circuit
court's interpretation of a statute. Id.
However, in the absence of a ...