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.

Can you probate a will after four years?

Can you probate a will after four years?

Can you probate a 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.

In a case on this issue decided in 2011, the testator had children by a prior marriage. His wife had children from a previous marriage. He executed a will leaving everything to his wife if she survived him. The testator died in 2002. His wife probated no will. Six years later, she died. While going through her papers, her children found the will. Although it was more than four years after the testator died, the wife’s children filed the will for probate. A daughter from the testator’s first marriage contested the probate, contending that the wife’s children were in default for not filing it within four years. (If the testator died intestate, his children from the prior marriage would inherit his property, not the wife.)

The Court sided with the wife’s children. It ruled that her children were not in default just because the wife was in default for not filing the will within four years. They testified that they were not aware of the will until after their mother had died. The Court said that if they didn’t know about the will and were not negligent in finding it, they were not in default. 343 S.W.3d 899.

In a 2013 case, the wife didn’t file the will within four years. An attorney told her that she didn’t need to file it; she could just file an affidavit of heirship. The wife did not know that such an affidavit would not pass the husband’s separate property to the wife. A dispute arose between the wife and a son. The son claimed that the separate property belonged to the children because the wife did not probate the will within four years. He claimed that it was now too late to probate the will. The issue turned on whether the wife was “in default” for not filing the will within four years. The court ruled in favor of the wife. There are several cases where the courts have found that evidence that a proponent relied on counsel’s advice was sufficient to support a finding that the proponent was not in default or raise a material fact question of whether the proponent was not in default.  No. 11-11-00131-CV.

While the Texas Estates Code requires that a will has to be filed within four years of the testator’s death, a will can still be filed after that time if the person filing the will was not “in default” in not filing within four years. Texas courts are pretty liberal in permitting a will to be offered as a muniment of title after the statute of limitations has expired upon showing an excuse by the proponent for failure to offer the will earlier.

Update: in 2019, the Texas Supreme Court settled the issue of who is “in default.” The test now applies only to the applicant who filed the will for probate. If the applicant is not “in default,” the will can be admitted to probate. It doesn’t matter whether or not the applicant’s predecessors were “in default. ” You can read more about that case here. 17-0901.

Update: On April 29, 2022, the Austin court denied probate to a will filed more than four years after the testator’s death. 03-20-00449-CV. But, on May 6, 2022, the same court upheld a will being admitted more than four years after death. 03-21-00081-CV. In the last case where the will was admitted, the widow testified that she went to a lawyer who told her she did not need to probate the will and, as soon as she learned about the need to probate it, immediately took steps to get it probated. The difference between the two cases shows what evidence is necessary to establish a lack of default when a will is probated more than four years after death.

Update: In 2022, the El Paso court upheld the trial court’s finding that the applicant was in default. No findings of fact and conclusions of law were requested so the appeals court had to assume that the evidence supported the trial court’s ruling. It distinguished a prior similar case where the applicant was held not to be in default by noting that the applicant never had an interest in the property, was familiar with land transactions because he had bought and sold some property before, and he spoke English. It is also worth noting that the court mentioned that the applicant, a male, was the “partner” of the decedent, a male. The court even cited the Obergefell ruling. Did that influence the ruling?

Texas Supreme Court Decides Standard For Filing A Will After Four Years

The Texas Estates Code provides that a will must be filed within 4 years of the death of the testator. A will can be filed after that time if the applicant is not “in default.”

The Texas courts have struggled with the issue of what “in default” means and how it is to be applied. Some Courts have held that the default of someone else may be imputed to you. For instance, what if your mother did not probate your father’s will within four years? You discovered the will after your mother passed away and need to probate it. Can you or is your mother’s default imputed to you? The Texas Supreme Court resolved all of those issues in a case decided in 2019. 17-0901, 575 S.W.3d 331.

Problem

Occasionally, a will is found more than 4 years after the testator died. Getting that will file for probate so that they will be a good chain of title to the testator’s property can be difficult. A will can be filed after 4 years if the applicant is not “in default.” What that phrase means has trouble Texas courts for many years. Some courts have applied the fault of a predecessor to the applicant and ruled that the will could not be admitted to probate because the predecessor was “in default.”

Facts

A man’s wife died. She left a will leaving everything to her husband. Her husband did not file the will for probate. More than 4 years later, the husband died. He left a will leaving everything to his 1st wife. As the 1st wife was going through his belongings, she found the will of his 2nd wife and filed it for probate. The children of the 1st wife opposed the probate saying that the husband was in default and therefore his 1st wife was also in default. The trial court agreed. On appeal the Court of Appeals agreed that the 1st wife was in default because the fault of the husband was applied to her. The case was then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

Ruling

A Texas statute provides that “a will may not be admitted to probate after the fourth anniversary of the testator’s death unless . . . the applicant for the probate of the will was not in default in failing to” probate the will within that period.

In Faris v. Faris,  we held that a devisee’s default is imputed to his own devisee, though the latter is not himself in default. But the statute plainly states that it is the applicant who must be in default for limitations to run. We have never cited Faris, and today we overrule it. We vacate the lower courts’ judgments and remand the case to the trial court.

The statutory standard for permitting or disallowing probate of a will after the four-year mark is whether there is proof that “the applicant for the probate of the will was not in default”. There is no mention of potential default by anyone else.

(W)e also reject the test applied by the Seventh Court of Appeals that permits inquiry into whether permitting the late probate of a will would “work an injustice or frustrate the intent of the testator”… “Equity, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.” The statutory text as written prevents litigation over the equities of a particular case and the inconsistent and unpredictable results that inevitably follow. 

Want new articles before they get published?
Subscribe to our Awesome Blog.

Texas Supreme Court Decides Standard For Filing A Will After Four Years

Oral Statements by the Testator about a Texas Will

When a person tells someone how he wants his property handled when he dies but he has a written will or trust, the oral statements will not change how his property is handled if the will or trust is unambiguous.

Problem

Someone testifies in a Texas will or trust contest that the testator told them how he wanted his property distributed. The will or trust of the testator specifies a different way to distribute the property. What effect do the testator’s statements have on the Texas will or trust?

Facts

In her lawsuit, Blanca alleged that when Frank decided to sell the Ranch, he told family members they would be given an opportunity to match any offer he received.

Blanca filed the underlying lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction to prevent Frank from conveying the (property based on the statements by the testator).

The court had to decide if or how this evidence should be treated.

ESTATE OF RODRIGUEZ, 04-17-00005-CV, (Tex. App. – San Antonio January 10, 2018)

Trust versus Will in Texas

Since this case dealt with a trust, the court stated the Texas’ rules for construing trusts.

The same rules of construction apply to both wills and trusts. The construction of an unambiguous trust instrument is a question of law for the trial court.

An appellate court may not focus its attention on what the testator intended to write, but on the meaning of the words he actually used.  That is, we must not redraft a trust instrument to vary or add provisions under the guise of construction of the language of the trust to reach a presumed intent. No speculation or conjecture regarding the intent of the testatrix is permissible where, as here, the will is unambiguous, and we must construe the will based on the express language used therein.

This court must harmonize all terms to give proper effect to each part of the instrument; in construing the instrument, we must give effect to all provisions and ensure that no provisions are rendered meaningless.  Provided the language of the instrument unambiguously expresses the settlor’s intent, there is no need to construe the instrument because “it speaks for itself.”

What are the rules for construing a trust in Texas?

ESTATE OF RODRIGUEZ, 04-17-00005-CV, (Tex. App. – San Antonio January 10, 2018)

Ruling

Based on the facts of the case and applying Texas law, the court found that the trust stated how the property was to be handled and that any statements by the Testator to the contrary were to be disregarded.

Notes

There are some Texas cases where a will or trust was ambiguous and statements by the Testator were used to determine what he meant. In this case, the trust was not ambiguous.

Want new articles before they get published?
Subscribe to our Awesome Blog.

Oral Statements by the Testator about a Texas Will

10 Reasons Not To Allow Pre-Death Will Contest

Background

Texas does not allow a pre-death (Antemortem) will contest. 254 sw2 862. As long as the testator is alive, Texas considers his will changeable and therefore, a will contest would be a waste of time. However, a few states allow pre-death will contest including Ohio, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Alaska. A few states like New Jersey are considering allowing them.

10 Reasons Not To Allow Pre-Death Will Contest

Will Sleeth, an attorney in Williamsburg, Va wrote an article about pre-death will contest. He explained what it is: (more…)

Pin It on Pinterest