Wills are Public Records, "Shoeless Joe" Jackson - Steven J. Coker
Subject: Wills are Public Records, "Shoeless Joe" Jackson
From: Steven J. Coker
Date: July 13, 1998

Joe Coates wrote:
> Steve- I am led to understand the SC State Supreme Court issued some kind of
> ruling or mandate relating to maintenence or dissemination of public records
> etc. Do you know anything about this; ...

See:: http://www.law.sc.edu/opinions/24685.htm


Davis Adv. Sh. No. 26
S.E. 2d

In The Supreme Court 

American Heart Association, South Carolina Affiliate, Inc., and the American
Cancer Society, South Carolina Division, Inc., 


County of Greenville, the Honorable C. Diane Smock, in her official capacity
as the Probate Judge of Greenville County, and the State of South Carolina, 


Appeal From Greenville County 
Marc H. Westbrook, Judge 

Opinion No. 24685 
Heard February 6, 1997 - Filed September 2, 1997 


D. Garrison Hill and Leo H. Hill, both of Hill Wyatt & Bannister, L.L.P., of
Greenville, for appellants. 

County Attorney Judith S. Burk and Assistant County Attorney Jeffrey D. Wile,
both of Greenville, for respondents County of Greenville, and the Honorable C.
Diane Smock. 

Attorney General Charles Molony Condon, Deputy Attorney General Treva Ashworth
and Senior Assistant Attorney General Kenneth P. Woodington, all of Columbia,
for respondent State of South Carolina. 

H. Simmons Tate, Jr., of Sinkler & Boyd, P.A., of Columbia and H. Bartholomew
Cox, of Fort Washington, Maryland, for amicus curiae petitioner The Manuscript

FINNEY, C.J.: Appellants commenced this action requesting a declaration that
the original will and signature of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson is an asset of his
estate and therefore, devised to his wife (Katie Jackson) and ultimately to
appellant charities.[1] Appellants are seeking ownership and possession of the
tangible will. Additionally, appellants allege that respondents' claim of
ownership and possession constitute a taking of appellants' property without
just compensation. All parties moved for summary judgment on the basis that
there were no genuine issues of material fact and each side was entitled to
judgment in its favor as a matter of law. The court granted summary judgment
in respondents' favor and denied appellants' motion. Following a hearing, the
circuit court declared the original will is the property of Greenville County
or alternatively, the State of South Carolina. Appellants, the residual
beneficiaries of Katie Jackson's estate appeal the trial court's order. 

Appellants contend the trial court erred in granting respondents' summary
judgment motion. Appellants assert a will is a person's personal property
since individuals may during their lifetime own, possess, use, enjoy, and
dispose of their will any way they see fit and upon death, the will becomes
part of one's estate passing directly to the personal representative. We

Summary judgement is appropriate when it is clear there is no genuine issue of
material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Kreutner v. David, 320 S.C. 283, 465 S.E.2d 88 (1995). The trial court ruled
that the Jackson will is a public record and must remain in the care, custody
and control of the Probate Court. The court held the original will constitutes
a public record pursuant to S. C. Code Ann.  30-4-20(c) (1991). The circuit
court concluded that original wills, which are required by state law to be
filed with the Probate Court, constitute "public records."[2] "Public record"
under the Freedom of Information Act includes all papers, or other documentary
materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned,
used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.  30-4-20(c). The
court determined that the probate code neither intends nor provides that the
deliverer of a will, even if a devisee under it, gain ownership in the actual
document. Further, the circuit court considered the records retention policy
as ordered by this Court which provides for the permanent retention of
original documents from decedent estates. 

We find Mrs. Jackson never owned the original will and therefore could not
pass ownership of the document to appellants. The trial court did not err in
concluding the will is a public record subject to retention by the county or
State and hence there was no unconstitutional taking of private property. 

[1] Mr. Jackson's original signature is considered extremely rare and

[2] S.C. Code Ann.  62-2-901 (Supp. 1996) provides that persons having
possession, custody, or control of any last will and testament must deliver
such will to the probate court within thirty days of death. 

The trial court's judgment is 



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