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Tennessee Court of Appeals Finds that Tennessee Estate Must be Opened to File Suit on Behalf of Deceased for Promissory Note Breach of Contract

Posted on Sep 1 2014 8:52PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in the recent decision of Doris Guyear, Heir of Leroy Guyear, deceased v. Joey Blalock, et al No. M2012-01562-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 3697564 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014) discussed efforts to collect on a promissory note that was owned by a deceased individual.  In this case, the owner of the promissory note died and his widow desired to collect on the promissory note as his heir.  She therefore filed a complaint in the name of his estate to collect on the promissory note.  The problem was, there was no estate opened.  The wife then amended the complaint on several occasions to try to fix the problem by being listed as the “next friend” of the deceased and ultimately as a “partner” of the deceased.  However, the plaintiff never actually opened up an estate for her husband in order to properly proceed with the lawsuit to enforce the promissory note that her husband owned.

 

As a result, the question addressed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals was whether the wife could bring a suit for the promissory note of her deceased husband without formally opening up an estate.  Ultimately, the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that the spouse could not bring this cause of action for breach of contract for the promissory note in her individual capacity or in the capacities that she attempted.  Rather, the spouse was required to open up an estate in order to properly bring this lawsuit for breach of contract.  The Court specifically stated as follows:

 

The proper way to establish the respective rights of Leroy Guyear's heirs to his property would have been through the administration of his estate. If Doris Guyear had been appointed as the administrator, then she would have had the right, and perhaps even the duty, to sue on behalf of his estate in order to collect any debts that were owed to her late husband. See, State v. Anderson, 84 Tenn. 321, 338 (1886); Carr v. Lowe's Executor, 54 Tenn. 84, 90 (1871); State v. Fulton, 49 S.W. 297, 301. The trial judge alerted Ms. Guyear to the necessity of opening the estate and becoming its administrator if she wished to bring suit in its name, but she chose not to do that for whatever reason, and rather to amend her complaint by bringing it in her own name and as her late husband's “next friend.”

 

Guyear at 4.  As a result, the Tennessee Court of Appeals dismissed this cause of action to enforce the promissory note because it was not brought on behalf of the proper party, the estate.  This case is important because it shows when you need to open up an estate in order to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a deceased individual.  Just because someone is the deceased’s next of kin or spouse does not mean that they can necessarily bring a lawsuit on their behalf.  Tennessee law is designed so that an estate must be opened in this context in order to be able to bring a cause of action for breach of contract.  If an estate is not opened then likely a cause of action brought by a spouse or child will not be valid under Tennessee law.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Wills and Estates blog.

TAGS: Executor/Executrix, Tennessee Probate Law
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. Contact Jason at 615-540-1004 or jlee@burrowlee.com for an initial consultation on wills estate planning and probate issues.

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