WACO, TX (KWTX) – Country songwriting icon Billy Joe Shaver, the self-proclaimed “old lump of coal,” predicted in one of his most popular songs that “I’ll be a diamond someday.”
It remains unclear if Shaver, an enduring follower of Texas music’s outlaw mystique, ever achieved the glowing “perfect pure blue” status he hoped for.
However, 18 months after Shaver’s death, his nephew and Willie Nelson’s nephew remain embroiled in a hotly contested dispute over Shaver’s estate, which includes pursuing royalty checks from Shaver’s prolific songwriting career. which he called his “mailbox money” and helped support it later. years.
The 81-year-old Corsicana native and longtime Waco resident died in October 2020 at a Waco hospital after suffering a stroke. He was buried at Waco Memorial Park.
McLennan County Court Judge Vik Deivanayagam held a hearing Friday morning in which Terry Dwayne Rogers, 64, of Bellmead, and Fred Fletcher, of Bastrop, who both claim to have wills in which Shaver named sole beneficiaries, seek to have the claims of the other rejected.
Shaver left a will in 2000 that named his sister, Patricia, as executor and left everything to her. This will was replaced by another three years later, which left his estate to Rogers, his sister’s son.
Both of these wills, and others written by Shaver over the years, were professionally drafted 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 claims to name him as its sole beneficiary.
Deivanayagam heard about an hour of arguments from lawyers for both sides on Friday and postponed a decision on the summary judgment motions. Waco attorney Bruce Perryman, who represents Rogers along with Waco attorney Whitney Fanning, said the dispute may have to be decided by a McLennan County jury.
Fletcher, a music producer and former drummer for Shaver’s band, founded Arlyn Studios in Austin in 1984. It attracted top-selling artists including Nelson, Ray Charles and Neil Young. Fletcher and Nelson co-founded Pedernales Records in 1999.
The 2008 will, witnessed by five other people including Fletcher, 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, as well as his songs, his car, his bank accounts and “everything of value.
“I want him to continue to administer all my musical affairs and keep all profits,” reads a copy of the handwritten will.
Waco attorney Andy McSwain, who represents Fletcher with attorney Lauren Olivarez, told the judge that Shaver and the others executed the new will in Fletcher’s office in Austin. He said Shaver told those present that he no longer wanted Rogers to be his beneficiary and that he was happy that Fletcher was continuing to manage his musical legacy.
“Our summary judgment argument and witness affidavits prove everything completely,” McSwain said. “The intent, it was executed correctly, the holographic nature of the will, they prove everything. The only open question is that it is lost and no one knows where the original is. We don’t have the original will. “
Fletcher said he kept the original will, but it was apparently lost when he moved into his office the following year. Another witness said Shaver was in possession of the original.
Perryman argued that without the original handwritten will, it is effectively revoked.
“Our position is that this copy is not admissible as evidence,” Perryman said. “Therefore, they don’t have a case.”
McSwain countered by saying, “We don’t know the original will doesn’t exist. All we know is that he has not been found.
Alternatively, Perryman argued, there is no evidence that the copies of the document were not altered or that Fletcher, his family and others did not exert undue influence on Shaver to alter his will.
“Why do we have to take Mr. Fletcher’s word that he can’t produce the original?” Perryman asked. “I think it’s a matter of fact. It could have been changed and that’s why they don’t want to show it to anyone. We are not inconsistent. Mr. Fletcher, it’s because he told the court that Mr. Shaver had the original and someone took it out of his house. Then he comes back and says, ‘No, I had it and I lost it.’ Well, that’s really convenient and we think it’s a question of fact and the jury needs to hear it.
Affidavits from two handwriting experts hired by Rogers indicate that both found it possible that Shaver wrote the document. However, the two found inconsistencies in the copy of the handwritten will and with known samples of Shaver’s handwriting. Both said the document could not be properly authenticated as it is a copy and the possibility of alterations exists.
Fannin asked why Shaver would change his long-standing practice of going to attorney Miller when he wanted to change his will.
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