Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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While the Supreme Court was asked in this case to recognize tortious interference with an inheritance as a viable cause of action in Texas, the court was not persuaded to consider it because Petitioners and cross-respondents, the Kinsels, had an adequate remedy in this case. In this case involving the sale of a ranch, the Kinsels sought damages for tortious interference with their inheritances, statutory and common-law fraud, and conspiracy. The jury found for the Kinsels on every claim. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s award of damages for tortious interference with an inheritance on the basis that neither the Texas legislature nor the Supreme Court has recognized that cause of action. On appeal, the Kinsels urged the Supreme Court to recognize tortious interference with an inheritance as a cause of action and uphold their recovery. The Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the court of appeals, holding that the facts of this case did not warrant an enlargement of this state’s body of tort law, as the law provided an adequate remedy in this case - a constructive trust imposed on the disputed inheritance. View "Kinsel v. Lindsey" on Justia Law

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The nearly identical wills of Vencie Beard and Melba Beard contained a provision stating that if both the husband and wife died in a “common disaster or under circumstances making it impossible to determine [who] died first,” the testator bequeathed specified cash amounts to nine individuals. Melba died at 8:59 p.m. and Vencie died at 10:55 p.m. on the same night after Vencie shot and killed Mebla before taking his own life. The trial court determined that the Beards died in a common disaster and that the Simultaneous Death Act (SDA) was incorporated into the Beards’ wills. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Beards’ deaths did not trigger the common-disaster provisions in their wills. View "Stephens v. Beard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The nearly identical wills of Vencie Beard and Melba Beard contained a provision stating that if both the husband and wife died in a “common disaster or under circumstances making it impossible to determine [who] died first,” the testator bequeathed specified cash amounts to nine individuals. Melba died at 8:59 p.m. and Vencie died at 10:55 p.m. on the same night after Vencie shot and killed Mebla before taking his own life. The trial court determined that the Beards died in a common disaster and that the Simultaneous Death Act (SDA) was incorporated into the Beards’ wills. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Beards’ deaths did not trigger the common-disaster provisions in their wills. View "Stephens v. Beard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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More than fifty years ago, various real-property interests were distributed to three children under their mother’s will. Heirs of the original devisees argued over the proper construction of the will provisions and the quantum of royalty bequeathed to each sibling. At issue was whether double-fraction language in the will fixed the siblings’ devised royalty at 1/24 - allowing the fee owner the exclusive benefit of any negotiated royalty exceeding 1/8 - or whether the testatrix intended the devisees to share equally in all future royalties. The trial court rendered judgment that the testatrix’s will entitled each child to 1/3 of any and all royalty interest on all the devised land tracts. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, after considering the will in its entirety, the testatrix intended her children to share future royalties equally, bequeathing to each child a 1/3 floating royalty, not a 1/24 fixed royalty. View "Hysaw v. Dawkins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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Lorene and Harley Walter owned a certificate of deposit account with Bank of America. The account was a survivorship account and a payable-on-death account. After Harley died and while Lorene was still alive, the Bank distributed the funds in the account to Dwight Eisenhauer and Jo Ann Day, the named beneficiaries on the account, in equal sums. The Bank violated its deposit agreement with the Walters in doing so because these payments were made before Harley’s death. Eisenhauer, using his power of attorney, deposited his check into an account in Lorene’s name, making himself beneficiary upon her death. After Lorene died, Eisenhauer, as the independent executor of Lorene’s estate, sued the Bank for breach of the deposit agreement. The jury found that the Bank had failed to comply with the agreement but that the estate suffered no damages. The trial court subsequently granted judgment for Eisenhauer notwithstanding the jury’s verdict and rendered judgment for the amount that had been distributed to Day, plus interest, costs, and attorney fees. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court erred in granting judgment notwithstanding the verdict to Eisenhauer, as the evidence supported the jury’s finding that the estate suffered no damages. View "Bank of America, N.A. v. Eisenhauer" on Justia Law

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A number of civil disputes arose from the discovery that a probate clerk had looted millions of dollars from the estates of Bexar County residents who had died intestate. The case involved an intestate estate defrauded of more than half a million dollars. More than a decade after the estate’s administration had closed, and more than three years after learning that the rogue clerk had misappropriated funds from the estates, the intestate’s heirs petitioned by equitable bill of review to re-open the estate, alleging that the estate administrator breached fiduciary duties and fraudulently concealed information about the estate’s assets. The probate court granted the equitable bill of review and set aside the orders closing probate. Thereafter, the heirs successfully litigated their claims against the administrator and were awarded damages against the administrator and his surety. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the heirs’ bill of review was untimely because it was filed more than two years after they received information that would cause a reasonably prudent person to make inquiry, which, if pursued, would lead to the discovery of the concealed cause of action. View "Valdez v. Bernard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The beneficiary of an inter vivos trust sued the trustee for misappropriation of trust assets and failing to provide an accounting to the trust's beneficiaries. The trustee moved to compel arbitration, relying an arbitration provision contained in the trust. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the provision could not be enforced under the Texas Arbitration Act (TAA) because there was no agreement to arbitrate trust disputes. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the arbitration provision contained in the trust was enforceable against the beneficiary, as (1) the settlor's intent here was to arbitrate any disputes over the trust; and (2) the beneficiary's acceptance of the benefits of the trust and suit to enforce its terms constituted the assent required to form an enforceable agreement to arbitrate under the TAA. Remanded. View "Rachal v. Reitz" on Justia Law

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Respondent sued the City of Houston. After an attempted settlement, Respondent asserted that the City breached the settlement agreement. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court denied. The court of appeals affirmed, but the Supreme Court reversed. On remand, the City filed another plea to the jurisdiction (2006 plea), arguing that it was immune from suit. The trial court implicitly denied the City's plea and set the case for trial. The City did not appeal. After Respondent died, the case was transferred to probate court. There the City filed a motion for summary judgment and an amended plea to the jurisdiction. The probate court denied the City's motion for summary judgment and, construing the City's amended plea as a motion to reconsider the 2006 plea, denied it. The City filed an interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals dismissed part of the appeal but considered the merits of part of it. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding the court of appeals erred by failing to dismiss the entire appeal for lack of jurisdiction because the amended plea was a motion to reconsider the 2006 plea, and time had expired for interlocutory appeal from it. View "City of Houston v. Estate of Jones" on Justia Law