Library, Church Sue Over Gift


Posted: June 15, 2012 at 5:26 a.m.

Trees shade the former home of Bernice Dunaway at 2135 N. Juneway Terrace in Fayetteville. Dunaway’s house, which was purchased and renovated by neighbors Tracy Hutchens and Rebecca Hutchens after her death in 2009, is the subject of a lawsuit.

Bernice Dunaway, an Episcopalian and fan of the public library, died in 2009 with no living children or spouse, but left loving friends, church members and neighbors.

This story is only available from our archives.

Got to love someone suing over a free gift. This is what our society has come to. I'd expect it from the library but a church? I bet Ms Dunaway is looking down shaking her head.

Posted by: marvinsmithiv

June 15, 2012 at 8:34 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Pretty pathetic of the church and the library to waste their money & time pursuing such a trivial case all for $$$. Greed is evil. Shame Shame. Take your gift and be happy you got it in the first place.

Posted by: spinsister

June 15, 2012 at 8:39 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Kinda makes an older person rethink where they want to leave their money huh? Greed, greed.

Posted by: suekmiller09281415

June 15, 2012 at 9:13 a.m. ( | suggest removal ) are given a free gift, and it isn't enough. How about the church and library go ahead and fork out 1/2 of the repair cost each to the Hutchens family, and once they are fully reimbused for the repairs they've done you might have some say in how much it sells for.

Posted by: Wayfost

June 15, 2012 at 9:32 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Would this still be a problem if the proceeds were not gifted to them? What if the executor of the estate was willed the proceeds? It states that the executor had the option to rent, lease or sell this home. What if he decided to get a loan to fix it up himself and lease the property, later to sell. They will still have received a similar amount. (The sale of the home less loan payoff). I agree the motive is pure greed!

Posted by: Rascal01

June 15, 2012 at 9:48 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Hmm.. a greedy church.. thats great.

Posted by: Deezee40

June 15, 2012 at 9:51 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Let no good deed go unpunished. The only people who will benefit from this are the lawyers.

Posted by: SmokedHam

June 15, 2012 at 10:13 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Agree with smokedham. Lawyers will make some money on this one.

Posted by: billburk

June 15, 2012 at 11:19 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Without going into the advisability of suing over the disposition of this or any other estate:

An executor's fiduciary duty to the estate is, simply stated, to provide the greatest financial benefit to the estate possible in a reasonable length of time, said length possibly set by a court. That duty is generally assumed to include liquidating assets at fair market value, in part to avoid any appearance of collusion. Mr. Gaudet was Mrs. Dunaway's caregiver, and not a lawyer, so perhaps there is less scrutiny to be directed toward his handling of the estate.

The Hutchenses might well have been entitled to some consideration in the transaction, having been good and helpful neighbors to Mrs. Dunaway for several years. However, her will should probably have indicated this by way of particular mention of consideration, or by some other means. An appraisal would have determined the as-is value of the property, and the value of the Hutchens' neighborliness could then have been estimated and applied toward the value of the property to determine a fair price. If Mr. Gaudet did not get (or have the Hutchenses get) an appraisal prior to determining a price for the property, there is at least the appearance of collusion with the Hutchenses, and he might have been derelict in his fiduciary duty to the estate. (Again, he might bear less responsibility for his handling of the estate, as he is not a lawyer.)

Lesson: If you are fortunate enough to have an estate left at the time you expire, read up on the subject, make sure your will does what you want it to do, choose your executor carefully, and be sure he reads up on the subject as well.

Posted by: AlphaCat

June 15, 2012 at 12:53 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

What a pack of silly people we have here, going on with unwarranted charges of "greed." Society, and just for the sake of plain honesty and decency, we all have a collective interest in making sure someone who dies has their wishes followed regarding their property and assets.

With the limited information we have here I can see a case for both sides. Ms. Dunaway asked that the home go to her church and the library, she didn't ask that 1/5th of the value of the property go to the church and library. If the property was worth $158,950 and it gets flipped to a neighbor for $35k, then there indeed appears to be funny business going on.

If the house had serious mold issues this could have a big effect on it's value, but probably not down to $35k. The land may be worth more that. And the judge may want to know why it was allowed to sit empty and depreciate like this as well.

My prediction is that they will split the difference and some value around $80-$100k will be figured out. Bottomline, Ms. Dunaway wanted the value of this property to go to the church and the library and her wishes should be respected. That the church and library are pursuing that Ms. Dunaway's wishes be followed, however that settles out after a judge considers the real value, is not "greed."

Posted by: fayfreethinker

June 15, 2012 at 1:07 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Actually, I think Jesus' comment to the guy who wanted his brother to split the inheritance pretty much indicates that the church is 'greedy' in pursuing this.

I think it better that a church should "suffer (itself) to be wronged" (Paul to the church at Corinth) than to take a lawsuit to the judge.

While I am daily involved in 'church' activities, and find myself sometimes very protective of 'church,' I must also be fair in my interpretation of scripture as it might apply to situations like this.

I am a 'fan' of St. Paul's and all the good they do in the community as well as the spiritual community they nurture...I just think this was a poor decision from a scriptural perspective.

Posted by: Jim_Huffman

June 15, 2012 at 2:24 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

I happen to know of Mrs Dunaway and a little about this situation. Mrs. Dunaway wanted everything left to Mr Gaudet because of the care he was providing for her, which he refused. After some discussion, Mr Gaudet suggested to her that she leave half of the assests, that were left after expenses and their disposals, to the library and half to St Paul's Church. The only organizations left in her life she cared about, which by the way, offered NO help with her care in her last years. She could not afford repairs to her home. With just the repairs required to the bathrooms, the home could probably have been condemned. By the way, was it mentioned that Mr Gaudet had moved to Conway and was driving from Conway to Fayetteville twice a week to check on her and run her errands. Where was St Paul's and the library when she needed this help? Well, Mr Hutchens filled those gaps and Mr Gaudet barely knew him. However, Mr Hutchens was doing this on his time and expense to help Bernice because she had gotten to know him and loved his family and children. Now, St Paul's chooses to sue two of it's own members (Bernice Dunaway deceased over her Will and Julius Gaudet her Executor) over this donation that was left to them. If I were a member of their congregation, I'd sure think twice about putting them in my Will. This should not be tried in the media but a lot of facts are yet to come out. Did the attorney mention that the reason the home was insured for the amount it was is because Mr Gaudet was getting a bill and paying it. He had no idea what all Mrs. Dunaway's policy covered, just that to continue paying the bill when he received it, seemed to be the right thing to do. The house was in deplorable condition and now that she's gone, I don't mind saying that for fear of embarrassing her. I'm stopping here because I've probably said more than I should have, and much more will come out in court. By the way, it gives the appearance that the library and St Paul's were approached by the attorneys to file this suit, because both organizations seemed more than happy to accept the donations until the attorneys stepped in. Hum? Do they get a percentage of any moneys involved? Maybe they should be chasing ambulances or getting copies of police accident reports and writing a "form" letter to those involved to get their business too.

Posted by: intheknow2

June 15, 2012 at 5:41 p.m. ( | suggest removal )


Thank you for the additional information. I understand your concerns, though I wonder if a couple of them are a bit misplaced. As you feel you might already have said too much, please note that my questions below are as much rhetorical as directed to you for answers. My interest is in the larger lesson.

Was the church fully or adequately aware of Mrs. Dunaway's living situation? Did she and Mr. Gaudet make clear to the church that he was no longer living in Fayetteville when he moved to Conway? If the church was neglectful of her over a period of years as you suggest, I am surprised that she would still wish to leave it half of her estate. You might know better, but it seems as though she might have kept the church at a distance, perhaps to keep members or clergy from seeing her living conditions. Some people are like that, out of pride, depression or fear of being reported. If she wanted to remain at home as long as possible but the conditions of the home were substandard, having people from the church over would probably have led to her removal from the premises. (The condition of her home might have created a condition of abuse or neglect. In Arkansas, clergy, friends and neighbors are encouraged, but not mandated, to report elder abuse and neglect.)
Here's a useful resource:

As an institution, is the library really in a position to assist homebound elderly persons in any substantial way?

Again, there are duties incumbent upon the executor of an estate. I'm sure that Mr. Gaudet did as well as he could and knew to do at settling Mrs. Dunaway's estate; it is unfortunate that the details of the way he carried out that duty has left room to question his efforts.

Posted by: AlphaCat

June 15, 2012 at 6:37 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

I honestly cannot say the full church knew. To me, the church is not singular such as the building which is bricks and mortar.. The church to me is the congregation or the people who makeup God's Church. I'm pretty sure in this case that she had some old friends left in the congregation who did in fact know the situation. You may very well be right
about not wanting "outsiders" in the home and see the conditions. A lot of which could not be seen by walking in and visiting for a few minutes. As a recluse, she kept most of the house closed off except for maybe 3-4 rooms. The rest had mold everywhere, roof leaks, plumbing leaks, etc. and I'll say no more about the house for if she was still living, she would be totally embarassed. It would be nice if everybody had the means to keep their houses in complete repair. You're right. She wished to remain in her own home for as long as possible. You know what? I'll bet you would love to be in your own home for as long as possible and I'll tell you, I sure would. There's more abuse in elderly care homes than most the public could ever imagine. I've been in them and I've seen it firsthand and there's no argument there! Now I'm off the subject again. For the life of me, I do not know why she would leave what little she had to the church and library except she was a loving person, read all time and loved her Church. Entertainment was reading her Bible or something from the library while she could still get there. Why would the library want to even stir this up except greed comes back into the picture. You know, this will be settled on this earth in a court of law unless the church and library have a change of mind. However, in the larger picture, there is another Judge who the Church will have to answer to and more than likely others too.

Posted by: intheknow2

June 15, 2012 at 10:27 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

the article states that "Dunaway left the proceeds from the 2010 sale to be split equally between the Fayetteville Public Library Foundation and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church through her will."

The proceeds were $35,000.
it is greed, the lawyers took over and will collect more than 17,5 each.

Lawyers in church, that is a joke...christians at the library?

Posted by: Andyroo

June 16, 2012 at 4:20 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

If anyone has doubt about greedy churches go to that big Baptist church that can be seen from the bypass in Springdale. Went to a funeral there a few years ago and it was like a palace. Had off duty Springdale cops inside too. I knew Kermit and Bernice Dunaway well and spent lots of time in that house. They owned a furniture/appliance store downtown and were the kindest people anyone would want to know. The store went bankrupt in the early 80's because they financed anyone and lots of them didn't pay. I was at the home when the IRS showed up and searched/trashed that home looking for "hidden items of value and cash" They left the home and the Dunaway's in shambles after finding nothing. Now this. I no longer wonder why people of the new milenium take such a hard line. When you have a town full of lawyers and a law school, they get mighty hungry, too many pirahannas in the water.

Posted by: rsl196601241345

June 16, 2012 at 10:05 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Name the Trust Department to handle your estate.

Posted by: Te

June 16, 2012 at 3:22 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

The church and library are acting no differently than any of you would act if you discovered the extent of how much you were being ripped off. Both the library and church would be remiss if they acted differently.
I've been an executor of an estate twice. It's not the best job in the world and I don't suggest you engage in unless you have lots of time and can read well or hire an attorney to explain your duties.
Fortunately for Mr Gaudet the Dunaways didn't have survivors pawing and grabbing stuff while he wasn't watching. That happens often according to my own experience and that of other executors.

It's simply not true that all elderly people want to remain at home as long as possible. Take a look around Butterfield Trail Village at the hundreds of elderly who sell their homes and voluntarily move there. My friend who works in admissions tells me there is a waiting list.

I was a landlord for 30+ years and rented to several elderly folks who no longer wanted the work or responsibility of caring for their homes much less the yards. They sold and rented a smaller apt from me and were all excellent tenants.

There's a few apt complexes in Fayetteville that specialize in the market for elderly people who no longer wish to keep up a home. I'm not talking about government subsidized housing for low income but nice rental properties.


Posted by: cdawg

June 17, 2012 at 5:35 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

I knew both Ms. Dunaway and Mr. Gaudet at the time that Ms. Dunaway's will was written. Ms. Dunaway's mental state at that time was very unstable and if Mr. Gaudet wanted to sell the house and keep the profits Ms. Dunaway would have never know otherwise nor would she have cared. To think that Mr. Gaudet would encourage Ms. Dunaway to leave the home to be split between the library and church was remarkable. How many of you would do the same if you were presented with a similar situation? You call yourself Christians? This kind of behavior is extremely hypocritical and it is obvious that the attorneys are the only ones to benefit....or have the attorneys taken this case pro gratis? Mr. Gaudet is a true Christian and gained NOTHING for all he did for Ms. Dunaway and this entire process is nothing more than harassment to Mr. Gaudet, and an embarrassment to your community. The City of Fayetteville citizens should be ashamed by such behavior!

Posted by: tkcalif

June 17, 2012 at 3:49 p.m. ( | suggest removal )