Who Can Contest a Texas Probate?

Who Can Contest a Texas Probate?

Who Can Contest a Texas Probate

Background

In order to contest a Texas probate, you have to have standing. Standing means a person has a right to bring a lawsuit in Texas. To have standing in a Texas probate proceeding, you have to be an interested party.

Facts

In a recent case out of the Fort Worth court of appeals, the issue of standing was the central issue. 02-21-00290-CV. In this case, a man died in an accident. His common-law wife, Ms. Pachecano, had three suits; a worker’s compensation case, a wrongful death and survival action, and a probate case seeking to be appointed administrator of the husband’s estate. In the worker’s compensation case, the insurance company balked because of the alleged common-law marriage. Ms. Pachecano settled the worker’s compensation case to get the proceeds for her children. She signed papers that she was not a legal beneficiary.

When Ms. Pachecano filed the probate case to be appointed administrator of her husband’s estate, the defendant, Jackson, intervened in the probate case. Jackson claimed that because Ms. Pachecano had said in the worker’s compensation case that she was not a legal beneficiary, she couldn’t participate in his probate case—the probate court denied Jackson’s intervention. Jackson appealed. Ms. Pachecano did not challenge Jackson’s standing to be involved in the probate case until after he appealed.

Appeal

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court, stating:

Because Jackson was not an interested person, Ms. Pachecano’s argument continues that Jackson lacked standing to intervene in the heirship proceeding that she filed. We agree that the question of whether a person is interested implicates standing. As explained below, Jackson as a defendant in a wrongful-death and survival action is not an interested person in an heirship determination; thus, Jackson lacked standing to intervene. Further, Jackson’s arguments regarding why it had standing—whether an interested person or not—are unpersuasive.

Ms. Pachecano did not challenge Jackson’s standing to intervene in the probate court. That failure, however, is not a waiver of a jurisdiction-based contention, such as standing.

Presumption of Undue Influence

Presumption of Undue Influence

Presumption of Undue Influence

A person who is an Executor, Administrator, Trustee, or who has a Power of Attorney is a fiduciary. A fiduciary must act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and show that each of his actions was in the beneficiaries’ best interest. When an action benefits the fiduciary in any way, there is a presumption of unfairness, and the fiduciary may be liable.

David Johnson, an attorney who writes on fiduciary litigation, has an article that addresses the case of In re Estate of Klutts, 02-18-00356-CV, (Tex. App.—Fort Worth December 19, 2019, no pet. history). In Klutts, a son who had a power of attorney helped his mother prepare a new will which benefited the son. When the mother died, he attempted to probate the new will. However, his siblings contested the will. The son asked the court to dismiss the contest because his siblings had no evidence that he unduly influenced his mother. The trial court agreed with the son and rejected the will contest. On appeal, the appeals court reversed.

The appeals court held that because he had a power of attorney, the son had to overcome the presumption of undue influence. Thus, the burden was not on the siblings to prove undue influence but on the son to disprove it.

Tax Foreclosure in Texas

Tax Foreclosure in Texas

Taxing authorities can foreclose on your real property when you don’t pay your taxes. By statute, an owner may redeem real property purchased at a tax sale by paying certain amounts within a prescribed period of time after the purchaser’s deed is recorded. What does a tax foreclosure in Texas have to do with an inheritance? Read on and find out.

Inheritance and foreclosure

Let’s say an elderly relative doesn’t keep up with their bills. Tax payments can be missed or forgotten. A relative may need to be put in a nursing home, and while there, no one pays the taxes. The relatives may not know that a tax foreclosure happens in each situation. This can happen even with a property that is the person’s homestead. Depending on the facts, the heirs of the deceased relative may be able to redeem the property after the death of the decedent.

A situation like the above happened when an elderly man could not care for himself. 593sw3d167. His mother-in-law, Barton, asked her daughter, Karen, to quit her job to take care of him. When the man died, Karen was appointed administrator of his estate. Before he died, several taxing authorities foreclosed on his three-acre tract valued at $217,00 and, after his death, sold it at a foreclosure sale for $68,000. The land was the only asset of his estate.

Karen died shortly after the man, and Barton was appointed successor administrator of his estate. She then began the process of redeeming the property back into the estate. Barton was successful in redeeming the property.

Takeaway

The takeaway from this post is that a tax foreclosure in Texas is not as final as one might think. If you meet the criteria set out in the statute, you may be able to redeem the property after it is sold even if you are not the original owner and may only be an heir.

Can a murderer inherit his victim’s property?

Can a murderer inherit his victim’s property?

Texas Slayer Rule

Affirmative Action Required

The Texas State Constitution has a provision that says “”No conviction shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture of estate.” The Texas Estates Code §201.058 (Probate Code §41(d)) is similar. Those two provisions have been interpreted to allow a murderer to inherit from his victim. However, the courts have allowed the heirs of the victim to file suit against the murderer and to impose a constructive trust on any property he might receive from the victim. The practical effect of the constructive trust is to deny the murderer the inheritance from the victim.

If the heirs of the victim do nothing, the murderer receives his inheritance. If the heirs of the victim file suit in court, the courts will impose a constructive trust on the inheritance which effectively denies the inheritance to the murderer.

Insurance policies are different. The murderer does not inherit the proceeds from an insurance policy since there is a special statute that deals with insurance policies. That statute denies payment of the proceeds to the person who causes the death of the insured.

See another article on the this topic including the “Slayer’s Rule.”

PEARLS OF WISDOM: If someone is ever in a position where the Texas slayer rule is involved and a murderer is going to profit from his misdeed, affirmative action is required to prevent the murderer from inheriting the victim’s property. Compare 287 S.W.2d 546 with 68 S.W.3d 242.

Read About A Muniment Of Title In Texas

Read About A Muniment Of Title In Texas

Muniment of Title means to probate a will quickly and cost-efficiently when there is no need for administration of the estate. A court may probate a will as a Muniment of Title if the court finds that the will should be admitted to probate, that there is no need for an administration, and that there are no unpaid debts of the estate other than liens on real estate. One of the purposes of this limited form of probate is to provide continuity in the chain of title to estate properties by placing the will on the public record.

In normal probate where an executor is appointed and files his oath, Letters Testamentary are issued by the clerk to the ExecutorLetters Testamentary are the documents that show that the Executor has been duly appointed and is the legal owner of the estate’s property. Legal ownership needs to be distinguished from beneficial ownership. The beneficial owners are the persons named in the will to receive the property. The Executor is the legal owner which gives him the right to gather all of the assets of the estate to distribute to the beneficiaries. The Letters Testamentary are required by many financial institutions before they will release accounts belonging to the decedent. Letters of Administration are the exact same thing but are issued when an Administrator is appointed rather than an Executor. An Administrator is appointed when there is no will. Filing a will as a Muniment of Title can make the probate process easier if no administration is necessary and no debts are owed by the estate.

Find Out Who is an Interested Party for Probate Purposes?

Find Out Who is an Interested Party for Probate Purposes?

The Texas Probate Code defines “interested persons,” in relevant part, to be: children, heirs, devisees, spouses, creditors, or any others having a property right in, or claim against, the estate being administered . . .” In order to contest a will, you must be an “interested party.”

The interest referred to must be a pecuniary one, held by the party either as an individual or in a representative capacity, which will be affected by the probate or defeat of the will. That means you must have a financial interest. An interest resting on sentiment or sympathy, or any other basis other than gain or loss of money or its equivalent, is insufficient. For instance, if you are a neighbor and you see that an undeserving child seems to be ending up with all of the property of their parents or grandparents, there’s nothing that you can do because your interest is not pecuniary. It is just altruistic. The only thing that you can do is to notify an interested party of your concerns. If they are not interested in contesting the will, there’s nothing else for you to do.

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Robert Ray is Board Certified

Robert Ray is the Editor and owner of this site. Board Certified, Personal Injury Trial Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

We handle cases throughout Texas. Our principal office is in Lantana, Texas (DFW area).

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