Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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Texas 2020 Case Roundup

Estate of Grogan: The mere suspicion of undue influence is not enough to prevail in a Texas will contest.

ConocoPhillips Co. v. Ramirez:  In construing a will the focus is on the intent of the testator, which must be ascertained from the language found within the four corners of the will, if possible, and determined as of the time the will is executed.

Matter of Estate of Abraham:  Texas community property that passes on the death of a spouse is subject to the debts of the deceased spouse and the rights of creditors before any transfers of the community property asset can occur.

Ramirez v. Rodriguez:  A Texas trustee can be removed for ill will and hostility affects the performance of the trustee and the administration of the trust.

Estate of Lovell: A failed will can be adjudicated as a community property survivorship agreement in the appropriate circumstances under Texas law.

Matter of Troy S. Poe Trust:  Jury trials are available in trust modification actions to ascertain disputed facts.

Estate of Friend:  A deed can be invalid as the result of undue influence.

Watson v. Schrader:  Failure to pay attention to probate litigation deadlines can end your case before it even begins.  The discovery rule deferring accrual of a claim until the injured party learns of the wrongful act does not apply in most Texas probate cases as a matter of public policy.

Sklar v. Sklar: An executor can sell specifically devised personal property in Texas if doing so is not a breach of fiduciary duty, against the interests of the estate, or contrary to the terms of the will.

In Re Estate Of Scott: A triple will contest involving undue influence, where the defenders of the will were denied attorney’s fees because they did not act in good faith in defending the wills.

In Re Estate Of Bryant:  A technically permissible transaction may still be a breach of fiduciary duty if the transaction is not in a beneficiary’s best interest and places the trustee’s self-interest over that of the beneficiaries.

In Re Estate of Hunt v. Vargas:  Bank accounts are personal property under Texas law.

In Re Marriage of Thrash:  A person under a guardianship cannot get married if the right to marry has been removed and the ward has been found to lack the capacity to marry.

Ron v. Ron:  A trust protector has no fiduciary to the settlor of the trust.

U.S. Bank v. Moss:  The service provisions in the Texas Estates Code for service on a foreign corporate fiduciary can apply outside of probate proceedings.

Sibley v. Bechtel:  A power of appointment under Texas law is not property, but a mere power, and dies with the person who holds the power of appointment.

In Re Estate of Poff:  The Texas statutory probate court has a statutory obligation to have a court reporter transcribe oral testimony at a contested probate hearing, and failure to do so can be reversible error.

Kankonde v. Mankan: A Texas estate is required to be represented by a licensed attorney because an estate executor represents the interests of third parties, not just personal interests.

Bettwieser v. Jeffery:  The statute of limitations for a bill of review is two years, which can be tolled by the discovery rule or fraudulent concealment, neither of which applied in this case.

West Texas LTC Partners, Inc. v. Collier:  A creditor who receives notice in a guardianship action regarding claims, and does not present a claim, cannot then pursue the claim in a probate action.

Neal v. George E. Neal Jr. Irrevocable Trust: Parties are bound by an agreement made in a trust litigation, so be careful what you agree to, and make sure you are prepared to be bound by the agreement.

Farr v. Barnes:  The failure to properly obtain personal jurisdiction by achieving service prior to a hearing on temporary guardianship can result in the orders being void, even if the person participated in the proceeding.

Younger v. Younger: Trust litigation action involving the basics of trust interpretation, standing, and in terrorem clauses.

In the Estate Of Leslie Earnest Hines:  No equitable adoption occurred when no agreement existed between the parent and the custodian that the child will be adopted.

Ochse v. Ochse: A trust interpretation case determining that the term “spouse” in an irrevocable trust meant the spouse at the time the trust was created, not any future spouse.

Ackers v. Comerica Bank and Trust:  Class membership to receive a class gift under a trust is ripe for determination when the interests are contingent.

Odom v. Coleman:  An unambiguous will can be reformed to correct a scrivener’s error, and extrinsic evidence is permitted to determine whether the terms of the will accurately reflect the testator’s intent.

Isaac v. Burnside:  An in terrorem clause was not triggered in a Texas probate dispute when an estate beneficiary sought reimbursement for expenses incurred for the testator’s funeral.

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