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In re Estate of Crawford

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

January 23, 2019

IN RE ESTATE OF CRAWFORD.

          MCFADDEN, P. J., RICKMAN and MARKLE, JJ.

          Markle, Judge.

         Lee Crawford, Executor of the Estate of Georgia Lee Crawford, appeals from the probate court's order resolving various disputes as to how the proceeds of the estate should be disbursed. This appeal concerns the interpretation of a year's support order that was entered after Georgia Lee Crawford's husband, Mr. Sam Crawford, Sr., died intestate in 1969.[1] The probate court concluded that the year's support order set apart the Crawfords' homestead for the joint benefit of Mrs. Crawford and the couple's three minor children, while the executor contends that the homestead was set apart solely for the benefit of Mrs. Crawford.[2] For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the probate court's decision.

         On appellate review, we will not set aside the probate court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. In re Estate of Long, 307 Ga.App. 896, 898 (2) (706 S.E.2d 704) (2011). We review questions of law, however, de novo. In re Estate of Knapp, 326 Ga.App. 486, 489 (756 S.E.2d 716) (2014).

         So viewed, the record shows that Mr. and Mrs. Crawford bought certain real property, hereinafter "the homestead," in 1941, with each taking a one-half interest. When Mr. Crawford died in 1969, he was survived by his wife, three minor children, and several adult children. Mrs. Crawford filed an application for a year's support. The ordinary (now referred to as a probate court judge) appointed appraisers to evaluate the estate, and they reported as follows:

We, the undersigned, appointed by the Honorable the Ordinary of said County of Columbia to assess and set apart a sum necessary for the support and maintenance of the widow and minor children of Samuel Crawford or (Sam Crawford), deceased, for the space of twelve months, either in money or such property as the said widow may select, do report, that we have assessed and set apart as being necessary for the support and maintenance of said widow and children which the said widow has selected to take as follows:
ALL that tract or parcel of land . . . described in a deed from [sellers] to Sam Crawford, dated Feb. 20, 1959 . . . .
ALSO, a one-half undivided interest in [the homestead, which] is described in a deed from [seller] to Sam Crawford and wife, Georgia Lee Crawford, dated June 30th, 1941 . . . .
And we also set apart the following household furniture for the use of said widow and children: All house-hold and kitchen furniture; 1 - 1958 Ford Pick-up truck . . .; 1 - 1958 2-dr. Pontiac Automobile . . .; 1 milk cow; and 5 head of hogs; cash money on Deposit in Georgia Railroad Bank & Trust C., $141.53.

         The ordinary adopted the appraisers' report, and the property was set aside from Mr. Crawford's estate.

         When Mrs. Crawford died in 2011, she left a will that appointed her son Lee Crawford as executor of her estate. The Crawfords' homestead was sold for $125, 000 in December 2017. During administration of Mrs. Crawford's estate, a dispute arose as to how proceeds from the sale of the homestead should be distributed. One of the beneficiaries of Mrs. Crawford's will, Larry Crawford, wrote a letter to the probate court, asserting that the executor had erred in distributing the estate. The probate court treated the letter as a request for final settlement of accounts. After a hearing, a transcript of which is not included in the appellate record, the probate court entered an order resolving the matter.

         The probate court concluded that the executor had made various errors in distributing the estate. Among other conclusions, the probate court found that when Mr. Crawford died and his one-half interest in the homestead was set apart from his estate pursuant to the year's support order, that set apart was for the benefit of his widow and his three minor children - not for the benefit of Mrs. Crawford alone.[3] As discussed in more detail below, this finding is important because it determines how much of the homestead became part of Mrs. Crawford's estate upon her death. Under the probate court's ruling, Mrs. Crawford held a 5/8 interest in the homestead: she owned a one-half interest herself, and she obtained another 1/8 interest as year's support. The remaining ownership interests - three shares of 1/8 each - are held by the three children who were minors when Mr. Crawford died.

         On appeal from the probate court's order, the executor argues that pursuant to the terms of the year's support order, the homestead was set aside solely for the benefit of Mrs. Crawford. Thus, Mr. Crawford's one-half interest in the homestead passed entirely to Mrs. Crawford. And, because Mrs. Crawford owned the other one-half interest herself, the entire homestead was part of her estate upon her death.

         The legal principles concerning year's support are well-established. "When an individual dies testate or intestate and is survived by a spouse and/or minor children, the survivors are entitled, upon application to the probate court having jurisdiction over the decedent's estate, to an allowance out of the estate called a year's support." Cabrel v. Lum, 289 Ga. 233, 236 (2) (710 S.E.2d 810) (2011). The property may be set apart for the benefit of the surviving spouse and children, or for the surviving spouse alone. See, e.g., In re Estate of Wallace, 284 Ga.App. 772, 774 (2) (2007). When property is set aside for a widow and minor children, they all "own the property jointly, subject to the widow's right to consume the property [during her lifetime], and each has a share in the unconsumed property which is transferable on death to his or her heirs or legatees." Barber v. Dunn, 226 Ga. 303, 306 (2) (174 S.E.2d 898) (1970). In other words, when the year's support is for the widow and the minor children, the widow's death does not result in the entire property being distributed according to her will. See id. at 238 (2); see also Ennis v. Ennis, 207 Ga. 665, 675 (63 S.E.2d 887) (1951) (when a year's support is for the widow and the minor children, only the ...


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