Timeline of events is posted at the end
Was former Rankin County Chancery Clerk Murphy Adkins the recipient of fortune's smile or did he take advantage of his position as conservator to obtain $1.6 million? Such is the question swirling around a will contest in Rankin County Chancery Court. Thomas Bradshaw, Jr. died on New Year's Eve, 2012. He outlived his wife and left behind no children. However, he did have an estate worth approximately $1.6 million. Mr. Bradshaw changed his will to make Mr. Atkins sole heir six months after he became the conservator for Mr. Bradshaw in 2009. The former beneficiaries objected in court. The case has not been resolved.
Mr. Bradshaw suffered from declining mental capacity in 2008. His best friend, Larry Bradley, filed a petition to establish a conservatorship for Mr. Bradshaw on November 5, 2008. The petition included a letter from Dr. Tammy Young declaring he suffered from polycythemia vera.* She stated "I have evaluated him and determined that due to his advanced Alzheimer's disease, he is incompetent in making his own decisions, including financial decisions." Attorney John McLaurin acted as guardian ad litem for Mr. Bradshaw during the proceedings. The court appointed Muprhy Adkins as conservator on October 15, 2009. The order stated he was "presently incapable of managing his own estate due to advanced age and mental and physical incapacity. Two doctors provided certificates to support the ruling.
Mr. Bradshaw executed a trust in 2007 and amended it in April 2008 to include a $1.598 million bequest to Mississippi State Uniiversity as well as lesser amounts to other people such as Larry Bradley. The court established the conservatorship six months later. However, only six months passed before Mr. Bradshaw changed his will again to leave everything to Murphy Adkins, the conservator handling his affairs. MSU, Bradley, even the family mutt, were left out in the cold under the new will. The will states
I hereby give, devise, bequeath, and gift all of the property that I may own at the time of my death, whether real, personal, or mixed, wherever situated, sometimes referred to as my residuary estate to MURPHY ADKINS, my friend and conservator who has helped me greatly in the last years of my life. I understand that this gift may seem unusual.... Murphy Adkins has been a friend to me and cared for me. I have other friends who I would like to mention but I leave them no gift, devise, or bequeath in this Last Will and Testament. Larry Bradly, Don McLemore, Hal Parker, and others, have all been friends in my life and I thank them for their friendship but no gift, devise, or bequeath is made here in to them.
Mr. Bradshaw died on New Year's Eve in 2012. Then the fun really got started.
Mr. Adkins filed a petition to probate the will on January 15, 2013 (p.24). He included a copy of the new will and supporting documents. Mississippi State and other beneficiaries in the earlier trusts filed an objection to the probate of the will on April 19, 2013. MSU accused Mr. Adkins of using undue influence over Mr. Bradshaw to enrich himself and breach his fiduciary duty to Thomas Bradshaw (p.41). The objection also states Mr. Bradshaw lacked the mental capacity to change his will as the court declared in the 2009 order establishing the conservatorship (Hmmm... this sounds like another will contest going on in Hinds County right now). The two sides are skirmishing over discovery issues right now (p.52) and await the courts ruling. Florence attorney David Ringer replaced John McLaurin as attorney for Mr. Adkins (p.49).
Enter Benton James (sniff, sniff). Mr. James (sniff, sniff) operated InStep Dance (sniff, sniff) Studio as a ballroom dance instructor (sniff, sniff) for years on Lakeland Drive in Jackson (sniff, sniff). The studio shut down after it was evicted (sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff) from the premises (sniff, sniff) by realtor Nancy Lane (Saw the sign myself.). A Rankin County court convicted Mr. James of two counts of felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult after he pleaded guilty to the charges.(p.10) on May 10, 2010. The court suspended a ten year sentence and ordered him to repay $60,000 in installments to Mr. Bradshaw after he admitted defrauding Mr. Bradshaw of his money. A Rankin County grand jury indicted him on January 23, 2009.
There are two items of interest in this case besides the fact that Mr. James exploited Mr. Bradshaw before the conservatorship was established. Mr. James filed a motion to dismiss before he pleaded guilty. He argued Mr. Bradshaw was not a vulnerable adult as he was not under a doctor's care nor had a court declared him incompetent. Indeed Section 43-47-5 of the Mississippi Code states:
(m) "Vulnerable adult" means a person eighteen (18) years of age or older or any minor whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for his or her own care or protection is impaired due to a mental, emotional, physical or developmental disability or dysfunction, or brain damage or the infirmities of aging. The term "vulnerable adult" * * * also includes all residents or patients, regardless of age, in a care facility for the purposes of Sections 43-47-19 and 43-47-37 only.
So for a grand jury to indict Mr. James, there would have to be a legal presumption that Mr. Bradshaw was a vulnerable adult. Interesting. What is more interesting is a letter Mr. Adkins sent to the court on December 15, 2011 stating Mr. James failed to complete restitution. He states Mr. James "was found guilty of FELONY EXPLOITATION OF A VULNERABLE ADULT" on May 14, 2010." So Mr. Adkins is going after Mr. James for not making restitution to a vulnerable adult yet tells Jerry Mitchell:
Adkins told The Clarion-Ledger that Bradshaw was functioning well and told Adkins one day that he was being added to the will—something he said he never sought.
He doesn’t remember Bradshaw having Alzheimer’s, but does recall a doctor’s letter mentioning dementia, he said. “Some of us all suffer a little dementia.”
The battle continues in Rankin County Chancery Court before Judge Fairly.
March 28, 2007: Bradshaw executes a Trust.
April 29, 2008: Bradshaw amends trust. Leaves $100,000 to Bradley, $25,000 to Louise Wilson, $100,000 to dog, and $1.598 million to MSU.
November 15, 2008: Larry Bradley petitions for conservatorship
October 15, 2009: Court appoints Murphy Adkins as conservator
April 15, 2010: Bradshaw changes will and makes Adkins sole heir
December 31, 2012: Bradshaw dies
January 15, 2013: Adkins petitions court to probate will
April 19, 2013: MSU objects to probate of will
Kingfish editorial comment: What is the difference between what Mr. James did and Mr. Adkins' actions as conservator? Good thing Mike Brown wasn't the conservator.
*Polycythemia vera: condition where bone marrow makes too many red blood cells. Occurs more in elderly people.
One final note: Whatever happened to the dog?