Judge denies request to throw out country music icon Billy Joe Shaver’s handwritten will
Battle over Central Texas songwriter’s estate likely to be resolved by McLennan County jury
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A McLennan County judge has denied a request from Texas music legend Willie Nelson’s nephew to throw out a 2003 will from Billy Joe Shaver that purports to leave the songwriting icon’s estate to Shaver’s nephew.
The ruling by County Court-at-Law Judge Vik Deivanayagam rejecting a summary judgment motion from Fred Fletcher has attorneys on both sides predicting that the dispute over Shaver’s estate between Fletcher and Shaver’s nephew, Terry Dwayne Rogers, will be resolved by a McLennan County jury.
The judge’s ruling only affected Fletcher’s motion to dismiss the will Rogers is seeking to enter into probate proceedings. Deivanayagam is expected to set a hearing on a similar motion from Rogers that seeks to declare invalid the handwritten will that Fletcher contends Shaver wrote out in 2008 in front of witnesses in Austin that left him Shaver’s estate to Fletcher.
Deivanayagam also appointed Robert Stem, a retired state district judge from Marlin, as temporary administrator over the estate until the will dispute is resolved.
Waco attorney Andy McSwain, who represents Fletcher with attorney Lauren Olivarez, said the next step in the case likely will be a hearing on Rogers’ summary judgment motion. ”We will march forward,” McSwain said. “We will do some discovery, get it set for trial and do what we need to do to prove up the will.”
Waco attorney Whitney Fanning, who represents Rogers with attorney Bruce Perryman, said he expects “this will end up in the hands of a jury.”
“If I am going to leave all of my worldly possessions to someone, I am going to leave it to my family,” Fanning said. “I am not going to leave it to some music director whose sole purpose is to make money. My client has a proper will left to his family members, which is how we do things. That is kind of the way it is done. We take care of our family rather than someone who is not connected,” Fanning said.
Shaver, 81, a longtime Waco resident and Corsicana native, died in October 2020. He was a founding member of the Outlaw country music movement and was a well-known songwriter, producing such hits as “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal, “Live Forever,” “Georgia on a Fast Train,” and “Wacko from Waco.”
While attorneys on both sides said they could not place a current value of Shaver’s estate, it includes continuing royalty checks from Shaver’s prolific songwriting career that he called his “mailbox money.”
Shaver left a will in 2000 that names his sister, Patricia, as executrix and left everything to her. That will was superseded by one three years later, which leaves his estate to Rogers, his sister’ son. Both of those wills, and others Shaver drafted over the years, were prepared by attorney Elizabeth Miller, who died in January 2021.
However, Fletcher, the son of Willie Nelson’s sister, Bobbie, challenged the 2003 will by filing a 2008 handwritten document in which Shaver purports to name him as his sole beneficiary.
Deivanayagam’s ruling comes after a May 20 hearing at which attorneys on both sides argued that their respective wills should be entered into probate.
Fletcher, a music producer and a former drummer in Shaver’s band, founded Arlyn Studios in Austin in 1984. He and his uncle, Willie Nelson, co-founded Pedernales Records in 1999.
The 2008 will, which was witnessed by five others, leaves Fletcher with Shaver’s home in South Waco, which was valued at $122,030 on county tax rolls at the time of his death, along with his songs, automobile, bank accounts and “anything of value.”
“I want him to continue to administer all my music business and to keep all profits,” a copy of the handwritten will says.
McSwain told the judge at the hearing that Shaver told those present he no longer wanted Rogers to be his beneficiary and was glad Fletcher would continue to handle his music business.
Fletcher has said he kept the original will but apparently it was lost when he moved his offices the following year. Another witness said Shaver kept possession of the original.
Perryman argued that without the original handwritten will, it effectively is revoked.
“Our position is this copy is not admissible as evidence,” Perryman said. “Therefore, they have no case.”
Fannin questioned why Shaver would change his longstanding practice of going to attorney Miller when he wanted to change his will.
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