Country music songwriting icon Billy Joe Shaver left behind at least three wills, two of which have become the subject of a legal dispute between Shaver’s nephew and Willie Nelson’s nephew.
The 81-year-old Corsicana native and longtime Waco resident, described by many as a Western poet for his songwriting prowess, died Oct. 28 at a Waco hospital after suffering a stroke. He was buried at Waco Memorial Park.
Just as his rough and tumble life was marked by a quick temper, fast living and fights, the wills he left behind also are causing a bit of controversy.
According to McLennan County court filings, Shaver left a will in 2000 that named his sister, Patricia, as executrix and left everything he had to her. However, that will was superseded by one three years later, which leaves his estate to his sister’s son, 63-year-old Terry Dwayne Rogers, who lives in Bellmead with his 81-year-old mother.
Both of those wills were drawn up professionally by attorney Elizabeth Miller, who died in January.
However, Fred Fletcher, of Bastrop, the son of Willie Nelson’s sister, Bobbie, is challenging the 2003 will and has filed a 2008 handwritten document in which Shaver purports to name him as his sole beneficiary.
Fletcher founded Arlyn Studios in Austin in 1984. It quickly grew to attract top-selling artists, including Nelson, Ray Charles and Neil Young. Fletcher and Nelson co-founded Pedernales Records in 1999.
The 2008 will, which was witnessed by Lainie Safady and Charles E. Rainey, leaves Fletcher with Shaver’s home in South Waco, which is valued at $122,030 on county tax rolls, 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,” the handwritten will says.
Probate matters in Shaver’s case do not specify his net worth, except the 2003 will naming Rogers as beneficiary lists his worth at $120,000, a possible indicator of his home’s value only.
Waco attorney Fred Brown, who represented Shaver’s sister when the 2000 will was drafted, said he does not know the value of Shaver’s estate. He said the chief source of Shaver’s income was royalties from the songs he wrote, which Brown called “his mailbox money.”
“It is clear that in all his previous wills, he meant to leave his inheritance to his family, and then all of a sudden in 2008, he’s going to leave it to a record producer with no lawyer involved?” Brown said. “We all hear stories about these record producers, right?”
Shaver was not estranged from his sister or his nephew at the time of his death, Brown said.
Houston attorney Anthony Garcia, who represents Fletcher in the will contest, said he hopes the dispute can be resolved.
“I am not a fighter,” he said. “I want to get this resolved in a way that is amicable to everyone and have Billy Joe’s legacy intact and protect his music and legacy.”
The will contest has been transferred to McLennan County Court-at-Law Judge Vik Deivanayagam’s court. If the dispute cannot be resolved, it will be up to Deivanayagam to decide which will should be honored.
“As far as I am concerned, the 2008 will is the most recent will Billy Joe has out there,” Garcia said. “We are just trying to do what is right for Billy Joe and his family, but my understanding is that the 2008 will is the latest one he has out there.”
Waco attorney Bruce Perryman represents Rogers. He said the probate case was filed recently and the family is still dealing with Shaver’s unexpected death.
“No one really expected him to pass like that,” Perryman said. “We just wanted to get the man buried. We are in the early stages of all of this. We hope it all can be resolved, but if it can’t, like all matters, we will go to court.”