Missed the 4-Year Mark? When Texas Courts Allow Late Will Probates

Robert Ray

Probating a Texas will after four years.

A will has to be filed for probate within four years of the testator’s death. After four years, a will can be filed as a muniment of title, but only if the person filing the will is not “in default.” When a late-filed will is opposed, the issue is usually concerned with whether or not the person filing the will late was in default.

Probating a will is a process that ensures a person’s belongings go to the right people after they pass away. But sometimes, this process can get tricky, especially if there are delays or misunderstandings in the family. Let’s look at two interesting stories that show why it’s important to follow the rules when dealing with wills.

Story 1: Evelyn’s Will (06-23-00054-CV)

Evelyn passed away on July 20, 2012, and left a will that she made in 2004. Her grandson, Hartwell, was the beneficiary, but he waited until September 19, 2022, to bring the will to court. That’s over ten years later!

Evelyn’s three children—Janie, John, and Jerry—were unhappy about this. They would benefit if the will were denied probate. They said Hartwell should have brought the will to court within four years of Evelyn’s death, as the law says. They argued that Hartwell didn’t try hard enough to take care of the will on time.

The court agreed with Evelyn’s children and said Hartwell didn’t do his job properly. Hartwell argued that he tried his best and knew about the will since 2004. He said his father was supposed to talk to Janie and Jerry about it. But the court didn’t change its mind. They said Hartwell had the will for over ten years and didn’t do anything with it, so he didn’t follow the rules. The will was denied probate, and Evelyn was found to have died intestate.

Story 2: Alvin’s Will (12-89-00091-CV)

Alvin died on January 18, 1983. His will gave part of his land to his son’s wife, Laura Beth. His will was brought to court by Laura Beth, but she did this more than four years later, on June 27, 1988. Alvin’s wife, Helen, and C.R. didn’t agree with this. Laura and C.R. were going through a divorce. C.R. and his mother would benefit if Alvin’s will was not admitted to probate. They pointed out that you must probate a will within four years.

The big question was whether Laura Beth was in default. If she was not in default, the will could be offered for probate after four years. The question was why she didn’t bring the will to court within four years. The court found out that, over the years, C.R. repeatedly told Laura Beth not to worry about probating the will and that the property would be theirs without going to court. This wasn’t true.

The court noted that in a marriage, there’s a special relation of trust between a husband and wife, which the law refers to as a fiduciary or confidential relationship of trust. This means a husband and wife should be honest and share important information. The court said C.R. should have told Laura Beth the right things about the will. Laura Beth wanted to bring the will to court many times, but C.R. convinced her not to by giving her the wrong information. The court decided C.R. did this on purpose to keep all the property for himself.

Because of this, the court allowed Laura Beth to bring the will to court even though it was late. They said C.R. tricked her, so it wasn’t her fault that she missed the four-year deadline.

 Combining Lessons from Both Stories

Both Evelyn’s and Alvin’s stories highlight the importance of acting quickly and following the rules when it comes to wills. They also show us how misunderstandings or dishonesty can lead to big problems. Here are some key points to remember:

  1. Act Fast: Don’t wait too long to handle important documents like wills. The law often has strict deadlines, and missing them can mean losing your rights.
  2. Be Responsible: Understand what you need to do and don’t rely too much on others to handle everything.
  3. Be Honest: In families, especially between spouses, it’s crucial to be honest and share accurate information about important matters. This helps avoid misunderstandings and ensures that everyone knows what to expect.

What We Learned:

These stories show us why it’s super important to take care of wills on time and follow the rules. If you don’t, you might not get what you should. Also, in families, being honest and sharing correct information is very important to make sure everyone gets treated fairly. Always remember to act quickly and carefully when dealing with important papers like wills to avoid big problems later on.

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The Author

Robert Ray

Robert Ray handles inheritance disputes of all kinds. He takes cases throughout Texas.
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