FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT
[NO. 66FPR-17-589], HONORABLE ANNIE HENDRICKS, JUDGE
Gean & Gean, Fort Smith, by: Roy Gean III, for appellant.
Sbanotto, a Professional Corporation, Fort Smith, by: Dennis
Sbanotto, for appellee.
J. GLADWIN, Judge
Juanita Noble appeals the Sebastian County Circuit Courts
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 decedents sole heir. We affirm.
October 17, 2017, Clyde A. Neal filed a petition for
administration of the estate of decedent— Juanita and
Clydes 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
decedents 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 decedents 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 decedents only
child, he is entitled to inherit all of decedents real and
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 decedents 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 decedents 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 decedents estate, finding that he was
decedents 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 Butchs father. The
circuit court found that ...