Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the probate court to modify a trust under Texas Trust Code 112.054 but denying the trustee's demand for a jury trial, holding that there is no statutory right to a jury in a section 112.054 judicial trust-modification proceeding.In reversing the probate court, the court of appeals held that the Trust Code conferred a right to a jury trial and that the error in denying the trustee's jury demand was harmful. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred by concluding that the Trust Code's incorporation of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure creates a right to a trial by jury in a section 112.054 judicial trust-modification proceeding. View "In re Troy S. Poe Trust" on Justia Law

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In this challenge to a share issuance the Supreme Court held that the probate court improperly submitted an invalid theory of liability to the jury and that the trial court's charge error probably caused the rendition of an improper judgment.In the weeks before he died, Dick Poe, the sole director of Poe Management, Inc. (PMI), authorized the corporation to issue new shares and then bought the new shares for $3.2 million, making him the majority owner of PMI. Dick's death vested control of the family-owned car-dealership enterprise in the two co-executors of Dick's estate. Richard, Dick's son and PMI's only other shareholder, brought this action challenging the share issuance as a breach of Dick's fiduciary duty. The trial court rendered judgment in favor Richard. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the probate court erred in charging the jury in two respects and that the errors were harmful. View "In re Estate of Poe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a technical defect in personal service on a ward does not drive the probate court of subject-matter jurisdiction or personal jurisdiction over the ward where the ward is personally served and participates in the proceedings through counsel without objection.Petitioner, the daughter of Mauricette and James Fairley, asked the Supreme Court to void all orders entered in a guardianship proceeding in which Mauricette acted as James's guardian for the final three years of his life. Specifically, Petitioner alleged that personal service on her father by a private process server was insufficient to vest jurisdiction in the probate court because Chapter 1051 of the Estates Code requires a proposed ward to personally be served by a sheriff, constable, or other elected officeholder. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding that Petitioner failed to establish that any deficiency with respect to the method of personal service rose to the level of a violation of due process. View "In re Guardianship of Fairley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court dismissing a will contestant's lawsuit for lack of standing, holding that because the contestant did not rebut the evidence established by the will's proponent the the contestant accepted benefits under the will to which she was not otherwise legally entitled, the trial court properly dismissed the contest.Before his death, Dempsey Johnson executed a will devising his estate through specific bequests and leaving the residuary to his three daughters, including Tia MacNerland. After Johnson died, MacNerland sued the estate's executor seeking to set aside Johnson's will on the grounds that he was unduly influenced when he executed the will. The trial court dismissed the will contest for lack of standing under the acceptance-of-benefits doctrine. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the executor failed to demonstrate that MacNerland accepted greater benefits than those to which she was entitled under the will or intestacy laws. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because MacNerland accepted benefits under Johnson's will, the trial court properly dismissed her challenge to the will's validity. View "In re Estate of Johnson" on Justia Law

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In this guardianship proceeding, the Supreme Court denied mandamus relief, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to disqualify counsel for the guardianship applicant due to a purported conflict of interest.Jamie Rogers, represented by Alfred Allen, filed an application for temporary guardianship of Verna Thetford's person and a management trust for her estate. Verna moved to disqualify Allen as Jamie's counsel, asserting that Allen had represented Verna and that she objected to his representation of Jamie in violation of his fiduciary duties to her. The trial court denied the motion to disqualify and appointed Jamie as temporary guardian for Verna. Verna argued before the Supreme Court that the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct required that Allen be disqualified. The Supreme Court held (1) the Rules permit such representation in limited circumstances and that a trial court's decision regarding disqualification, based on a careful, thorough consideration of the evidence, is entitled to great deference by an appellate court; and (2) there was no reason to disturb the trial court's discretion in this case. View "In re Thetford" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court overruled its decision in Faris v. Faris, 138 S.W.2d 830, 832 (Tex. App. 1940) ruling that a devisee's default is imputed to his own devisee, even where the latter is not in default, holding that Texas Estates Code 256.003(a) holding that the applicant for the probate of the will is in default in failing to timely probate the will.Linda Ferreira, in her capacity as executor of her ex-husband Norman's estate, offered the will of Patricia Hill, whom Norman subsequently married, for probate nine years after Patricia's death. Douglas and Debra Butler, Patricia's intestate heirs, contested the probate of the will on the ground that it was barred by the four-year limitations period in section 256.003(a). The trial court granted summary judgment for the Butlers. The court of appeals affirmed, holding (1) Norman's default in probating Patricia's will applied to Linda, and (2) even if Linda had applied to probate the will in her individual capacity as a devisee of a devisee, Norman's default would bar her application under Faris. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that, under section 256.003(a), when an applicant seeks late probate of a will in her individual capacity, only the applicant's conduct is relevant to determining whether she was not in default. View "Ferreira v. Butler" on Justia Law

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In this dispute in probate over title to property bequeathed in a will, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the order of the trial court ruling that governmental immunity barred an heir’s suit against a county, holding that, contrary to the court of appeals’ decision, Texas A&M University-Kingsville v. Lawson, 87 S.W.3d 518 (Tex. 2002), applied in this case.The decedent’s heirs and the county, one of the beneficiaries under the will, agreed to combine forces against the other beneficiary, a private university, during litigation over the properly bequeathed in the will. The county and heirs agreed to share equally in any recovery either of them obtained in the proceedings. The university subsequently settled, and the settlement was divided between the county and the heirs under their agreement. Later, an heir sued the county alleging a breach of the agreement. The county asserted that governmental immunity barred the heir’s suit. The trial court and court of appeals agreed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that Lawson, which provides that a governmental entity cannot create immunity for itself by settling a claim for which it lacks immunity only to assert immunity from suit in a subsequent action to enforce the government’s agreement, applied. View "Hughes v. Green County" on Justia Law

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There is no cause of action in Texas for intentional interference with an inheritance.Richard Archer and Richard’s six children (the Archers) brought this action against Ted Anderson’s estate for intentional interference with their inheritance, alleging that Anderson influenced Jack Archer to disinherit them. The jury found in favor of the Archers. On appeal, the court of appeals concluded that the Supreme Court has never recognized tortious interference with inheritance as a cause of action in Texas and deferred to the Supreme Court to decide whether to do so. The court then reversed and rendered judgment for Anderson. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the tort of interference with inheritance is not recognized in Texas. View "Archer v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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There is no cause of action in Texas for intentional interference with an inheritance.Richard Archer and Richard’s six children (the Archers) brought this action against Ted Anderson’s estate for intentional interference with their inheritance, alleging that Anderson influenced Jack Archer to disinherit them. The jury found in favor of the Archers. On appeal, the court of appeals concluded that the Supreme Court has never recognized tortious interference with inheritance as a cause of action in Texas and deferred to the Supreme Court to decide whether to do so. The court then reversed and rendered judgment for Anderson. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the tort of interference with inheritance is not recognized in Texas. View "Archer v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court ruling that a will bequest of a tract of land unambiguously devised a fee-simple interest, rather than a life-estate interest, to the testator’s son, entitling the son to summary judgment. The Supreme Court reversed and rendered judgment that the will granted the son a life estate and Petitioners the remainder interest in the property at issue, holding that the contested provision unambiguously conveyed a life estate. View "Knopf v. Gray" on Justia Law