The Texas Supreme Court has ruled on the issue of accepting benefits. This is the current ruling on accepting benefits and contesting the will.
Can you contest a will after accepting benefits?
In Estate of Johnson, 20-0424, ____ S.W. 3d ___, (Tex. May 28, 2021), a daughter accepted a mutual fund valued at over $100,000 that she was given under the will. She later contested the will. The trial court dismissed her contest for lack of standing because she had accepted benefits under the will. She appealed. The daughter argued that the benefit she accepted, the mutual fund, was worth less than what she would receive if the will contest were successful ($400,000+.)
The Supreme Court upheld the trial court dismissing the contest because she lacked standing after accepting benefits. This is called the acceptance-of-benefits doctrine. If you accept benefits under a will, you can’t contest the will unless your attorney knows how to handle this situation. The Supreme Court said a contestant does not defeat an acceptance-of-benefits defense by showing that the benefit she accepted is worth less than a hypothetical recovery should her will contest prevail. Equity does not permit the beneficiary of a will to grasp benefits under the will with one hand while attempting to nullify it with the other.
What you need to know
Does this case mean that if you ever accept benefits under the will, you can never contest it? Not necessarily. Other circumstances may change the outcome. So, if you have accepted benefits and decide that you need to contest the will, you will need to find an attorney who can guide you through the process. Remember, you need to act quickly if this should happen.