In the MATTER OF the ESTATE OF Elza Clifton BOND, Jr., Deceased
Barbara Gibson, Appellee Charlotte Marcum; Luellen Holmes; Robert W. Snow, Jr.; and Vicki Gottsponer, Appellants
Rehearing Denied May 15, 2019
FROM THE DREW COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 22PR-14-31],
HONORABLE KENNY JOHNSON, JUDGE
R. Baxter, for appellants.
Claycomb & Roper PLLC, by: Kaylyn Turner and Richard L.
Roper, Warren, for appellee.
appeal comes from a decision of the probate division of the
Drew County Circuit Court admitting a holographic will of
Judge Elza Clifton Bond, Jr., to probate. The appellants are
Judge Bonds maternal first cousins, and the appellee,
Barbara Gibson, was nominated as personal representative of
Judge Bonds estate in the holographic will.
Bond passed away on February 17, 2014. He was a
well-respected attorney and judge and practiced law for over
forty-five years. He did not have any children or siblings
and was preceded in death by his parents and his wife. Judge
Bond was survived by eight first cousins— four maternal
and four paternal. The will at issue provides an inheritance
only to the paternal cousins; thus, if it is upheld, only the
paternal cousins will inherit. If it is not, all eight
cousins will take equally.
appeal, the appellants argue that it was erroneous for the
circuit court to admit the will to probate. They further
argue that it was erroneous for the court to place the burden
of proving any incapacity on them. For the reasons discussed
below, we affirm.
Bond died on February 17, 2014. While cleaning out Judge
Bonds house, Frank Gibson, one of Judge Bonds paternal
cousins, found in a satchel a handwritten document that
appeared to be a will. He testified that there were other
items in the satchel, the rest of which related to the death
and funeral of Judge Bonds wife. At the trial, several
witnesses were asked about the handwriting on the document.
Everyone who was asked testified that it was written entirely
in Judge Bonds handwriting. Judge Bonds signature appears
at the end, but it is not dated. At the end of the document,
there is a handwritten attestation clause with blanks in it.
Those blanks were never filled in.
trial, both parties presented several witnesses, including
experts, to testify regarding the competency of Judge Bond.
The lay witnesses primarily testified concerning their
personal experience with Judge Bond over many years and, in
particular, their time with him following the death of his
wife, Marjorie Mae, on April 9, 2011. The testimony offered
by both parties indicated that Judge Bond was mentally
competent and in fairly good health through most of 2013.
Johnathan Davis, a local forester, managed a timber cutting
and sale for Judge Bond during the first half of 2013 and
indicated that Judge Bond was able to understand and handle
the business transaction capably. There was some testimony
offered that toward the end of 2013, Judge Bond occasionally
exhibited odd behavior and hallucinations. On December 18,
2013, Judge Bond was admitted to a hospital for an infection.
From there he was transferred to three other facilities, and
he passed away at the third facility. He did not return home
after December 18.
circuit court admitted the will to probate. It found that
three credible, disinterested witnesses established that the
handwriting and signature belonged to Judge Bond and was
signed in conformity with Arkansas Code Annotated section
28-25-104 (Repl. 2012), our holographic-will statute. The
circuit court further found that once admitted, it was the
appellants burden, as the ones contesting the will, to
establish that the will was executed without testamentary
capacity. The appellants now timely appeal.
cases are reviewed de novo; however, we will not reverse the
circuit courts findings of fact unless they are clearly
erroneous. Minton v. Minton,2010 Ark.App. 310, at