by Robert Ray | Last updated Mar 1, 2023 | Contesting wills, Grounds, Probate, Spouse, Time limits
Void versus Voidable
In a recent Texas case, Allebach v. Gollub, 14-22-00272-CV, the issue of void versus voidable marriages came up. There is a difference in the way the courts treat void marriages as opposed to voidable marriages. A void marriage is just that, void. A voidable marriage is one that can be declared void but someone must take some action to get it voided.
A man remarried after his wife died. When the man died, the new wife filed a new will for probate that left most of his estate to her. The Man’s children from the first marriage contested the will on the basis that the man lacked the testamentary capacity to make a new will. They also alleged that the marriage to the new wife was void. It was void, according to them, because the new wife was the daughter of their father’s biological sister – she was his niece. The new wife said the children were too late to contest the marriage because they didn’t complain about the new marriage until four years after the man died.
Is it too late?
There is a provision in the Texas estates code, §123.102, that says an interested party must contest a marriage within three years of the date of death of the Decedent. The subchapter is titled “Proceeding to Void Marriage Based on Mental Capacity Pending at Time of Death.”
The new wife said that this provision applied and since the children had not filed their motion to void the marriage within three years, the limitations of that provision applied and they were too late.
The court examined §123.102 and found that it applied to voidable marriages but not void marriages. The court explained that the marriage to a close relative was void and not voidable. Different rules are applied to void marriages. The court pointed out that:
And under our common law, such suits may be brought “by anyone, at any time, directly or collaterally.” See Simpson v. Neely, 221 S.W.2d 303, 308 (Tex. App.-Waco 1949, writ ref’d)…Thus, the limitations provision contained within Section 123.102 should only be understood to apply to a challenge to a marriage made voidable on the ground of mental incapacity. This understanding comports with the plain language of the statute, and it also preserves the longstanding common law rule that challenges to void marriages are not subject to limitations.
When you need to contest a marriage of someone who dies, you have to know the difference between void versus voidable marriages. If the marriage is void, as it was here, it can be contested at any time by anybody. However, if you are contesting the marriage because a person lacks mental capacity, you have to contest it within three years of that person’s deat.
by Robert Ray | Last updated Nov 5, 2022 | Contesting wills, Procedure, Spouse, Who
Who Can Contest a Texas Probate
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.
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.
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.
by Robert Ray | Last updated May 4, 2022 | Heirship, Spouse, Spouses
Pretermitted Spouse in Texas.
Texas does not recognize a pretermitted spouse, but other states, including New Mexico, do. I have written articles about a pretermitted spouse here and here. Even though Texas doesn’t recognize a pretermitted spouse, do they have inheritance rights in Texas if they are recognized as a pretermitted spouse in another state?
If a person leaves a will, the will is filed for probate, and it determines who owns his property. If there is no will, then an heirship determination is filed to determine who his/her heirs are and who will receive his/her property.
Can you have an heirship proceeding when there is a will? Yes, says Amarillo Court of Appeals, 07-21-00137-CV.
A man died with a will. His sister filed the will for probate, claiming his property under the will. The will was admitted to probate on September 16, 2015. Almost two years later, a woman from New Mexico filed a pleading in the case asking for an heirship determination alleging that she was the man’s common-law wife. She claims that she is a pretermitted spouse under New Mexico law. Because she was a pretermitted spouse, she claimed she owned the man’s property.
The sister filed a plea to the jurisdiction and a motion for summary judgment, alleging that there could be no determination of heirship because there was a will. She cited §202.002 of the Estate Code “Circumstances under Which Proceeding to Declare Heirship Is Authorized.”
The court pointed out that §202.002(2)(B) of that section allows an heirship proceeding when there is a will if “no final disposition of property in this state has been made in the administration…”
Because “Nothing of record indicates that the administration of Joe’s testamentary estate ever closed,” the court held that §202.002(2)(B) applied and denied the sister’s plea to the jurisdiction and summary judgment. The wife was allowed to have her day in court.
There can be no Texas pretermitted spouse, but if a person from another state is recognized as a pretermitted spouse, they may be able to obtain some or all of their spouse’s estate. It is worth noting that the case mentions that the man had property in New Mexico.
by Robert Ray | Jan 10, 2022 | Spouse, Who inherits
What is the difference between annulment and divorce?
A divorce is a court order that ends a marriage. An annulment is a court order that the marriage never existed.
An annulment can only be ordered based on limited circumstances like fraud, duress, or force as well as underage parties, alcohol or drug abuse, mental capacity, etc. There has to be some kind of untruthfulness that caused the person seeking an annulment to enter the marriage when they would not have done so if they knew the truth.
A divorce can be ordered when the parties feel they cannot continue living together. So, there was a marriage that is now ended.
What difference does it make in inheritance disputes?
A recent case shows how an annulment affects inheritance disputes. 02-21-00044-CV. In this case, a man, Quebe, died intestate. His daughter asked the probate court in Galveston to appoint her the independent administrator of the estate. A woman named Wallace, who claimed she was the common-law wife of Quebe, filed a competing application. Wallace was married to a man, King, who lived in Wichita County. Wallace went to Wichita County and asked the judge to annul the first marriage to King based on fraud. King didn’t object so the judge granted her an annulment. Wallace then returned to Galveston where the judge found that she was the common-law wife of Quebe and had priority of appointment as the administrator of his estate.
If the woman had gotten a divorce, she couldn’t be the common-law wife of Quebe because she was already married. But, by getting the marriage annulled, it is as if no marriage ever existed! And in this case, the probate judge found that she had put on enough evidence to find that she was the common-law wife.
by Robert Ray | Last updated Jun 30, 2021 | Inheritance, Spouse, Spouses
Does a spouse inherit if the other spouse dies intestate without a will? That simple question cannot be answered with a simple answer. It can’t be answered simply because there are so many factors:
- Are there children and are they children of both parents? See here, and here.
- What kind of property is involved? See here.
Texas recognizes common-law marriages or what Texas refers to as” informal” marriages. How does that affect inheritance rights. See here and here.
Because these issues are complicated, you need to discuss your rights with an attorney who understands inheritance laws.
by Robert Ray | Last updated Nov 14, 2021 | Spouse
Problems with terms like “spouse,” “children,” “heirs…”
In an interesting case from 2020, 04-20-00035-CV, a woman created a trust. The trust named her son’s “spouse” as a beneficiary. The son later divorced and remarried. The question before the court was whether the beneficiary designation of “spouse” meant the prior spouse or the current spouse.
The court ruled in favor of the spouse at the time the trust was created…
(W)e hold that the grantor’s use of the term “spouse” referred to William’s spouse at the time the Trust was executed, and did not refer to a class of persons including future spouses.
There is a section of the Texas Estates Code that provides that any provision in a will or trust in favor of a person’s spouse is void if they later divorce. However, the woman in this case was not leaving something to her spouse but to the spouse of her son. The court did not discuss this section of the Texas Estates Code so I would assume that all parties agreed that it didn’t apply.
Is the result the court reached the result that the woman who created the trust wanted? Probably, but maybe not. To avoid problems like this, it is better to specify who you’re leaving your property to rather than use terms that may cause confusion like “spouse.” “children,” “heirs…”