Who receives notice when a will is filed for probate in Texas?
When a will is filed for probate in Texas, the county clerk posts a notice on the courthouse wall. This notice provides constructive notice to the world that the will has been filed, and individuals should take necessary steps to protect their interests if any time limits or statutes of limitation apply.
However, a different rule applies when someone is a named beneficiary in the will. In that case, the executor or administrator must provide actual notice to the beneficiary that the will has been filed for probate. There must be something more than constructive notice.
In a recent Texas case, the contestant did not file his will contest within the two-year statute of limitations for contesting wills, and his contest was dismissed, leading to an appeal. 12-22-00256-CV. The contestant argued that he was a named beneficiary and should have received actual notice of the probate. However, the appeals court disagreed.
The will listed the contestant as the son of the testator but stated that the testator had “already give my son…a 1985 Chevrolet Corvette for his inheritance of my estate.” Despite the poor grammar, the court determined that the testator meant “already given my son” his inheritance, indicating that the son was not a beneficiary under the will since he did not receive anything under the will.
Things to Note
When someone passes, it is the responsibility of the heirs to understand what actions are required. In some cases, close relatives are unaware of an individual’s passing for several years following their death. If an individual is not listed as a named beneficiary in the will, they will not receive any personal notification, making it crucial for individuals to keep themselves informed.
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.
In Texas, the probate limits or the time limits for challenging a will, what the law refers to as the statute of limitations, is complicated. It is complicated because the Texas probate time limits for contesting a will center around the date that the will is admitted to probate, not the date of death of the testator. See the article on the probate process to become familiar with how a will is probated and to learn what “admitted to probate” means.
Contest A Texas Will Before Or After The Will Is Admitted To Probate
You can oppose a Texas will filed for probate before or after it is admitted to probate. There are benefits to challenging the will before it is admitted to probate. However, you can contest the will even after it is admitted to probate if you file the will contest before the statute of limitations or probate limits run out. You can challenge a Texas will on several grounds. I have written on the reasons for contesting a will here and here.
Contesting a Will in Texas
You know you are an heir
2 years from date will admitted to probate
2 years from date of majority
No limit but you must act reasonably quickly after discovery of fraud
Two Year Rule
The basic rule in Texas is that a person has two years from the date a will is admitted to probate to contest it. That seems simple enough, but the probate limits are not so simple. For instance, the proponent of the Texas will has four years after the death of the testator to file the will for probate. If the proponent files the Texas will just before the four years is up, the contestant will have two years after that to contest the will (six years after the death of the testator!) To complicate matters even more, a person who is not at fault can file a will more than four years after the death of the testator. “Not at fault” usually means that the person who files the Texas will for probate after four years did not know about the will during the four years after the testator’s death but found it later. If a person knows about the will and just doesn’t file it, he is usually at fault and can’t file it after four years elapse. As with all rules, there are exceptions. If the person knew about the will but was told by his lawyer that he didn’t need to file it, he may not be at fault and may be able to file the will after four years. In any event, the contestant can challenge the will within two years of the date that it was admitted to probate whenever that date is. Probate limits in Texas are complicated!
Minors have two years from the time they reach their majority to file a will contest in Texas. Probate limits in Texas are complicated! There is a 2018 case where the children were minors when their father died. The Administrator of the estate, took all of the money and didn’t tell anyone. When each child turned 18, the Administrator gave them a check for around $25,000. The estate was worth over $250,000. The children had all been raised in foster care and were unaware of their rights. More than four years later, the children finally hired an attorney and sued the Administrator. The Administrator said he had destroyed all the records and didn’t remember what was in the estate. The Administrator asked the court to dismiss the claim because of the statute of limitations. The court did dismiss the claims. The dismissal was upheld by the court of appeals. So remember, time matters! 571/324.
If a person finds a will dated earlier than the will that is filed for probate and thinks that the earlier will is the true last will of the testator, he has two years from the date that the later will was admitted to probate to file the earlier will for probate. This operates as a contest of the latter will. If a person finds a later will than the one admitted to probate, he has four years after the death of the testator to file the will for probate. Filing a later will executed after the earlier will that has been admitted to probate may not be considered a “contest” and may not be governed by the Texas two-year statute of limitation for will contest. The latter will can be filed within four years of the testator’s death or later if the person filing the will is not at fault. Probate limits in Texas are complicated! (Compare 322 S.W.3d 361 with 577 S.W.2d 748.)
As stated above, the statute of limitations is complicated. If you are concerned about the time, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
If a will is opposed before it is admitted to probate in Texas, the proponent of the will must prove that it is a good will, executed with the formalities required by law, at a time when the testator was competent and that it has never been revoked. After the will has been admitted to probate in Texas, the contestant has the burden to show that the will is not good, that it was not executed with the formalities required by law, that the testator was not competent or that the will has been revoked.
By Robert Ray a Texas inheritance attorney. The foregoing information is general in nature and does not apply to every fact situation. If you are concerned about Texas inheritance laws, inheritance rights, probate limits, have a family inheritance dispute, a property dispute or want to know the reasons for contesting a will or protecting a will from a contest and need an inheritance lawyer, we can help. Please click on the “Contact Us” tab above and use the contact form to contact us today. We are Texas inheritance lawyers and would love to learn about your case. There is no fee for the initial consultation.
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An attorney is an agent for the person (principal) that he represents. Agency law imputes the knowledge of the agent to the principal. If an agent knows something, the law says that the principal knows it as well.
An interesting case out of Ohio had the question of do you legally know what your attorney knows come up in relation to a will contest. In Ohio, (more…)
For the same reasons Texas is seeing an increase in will contest. I have previously written on why contesting a will has become more common. You can view that article here. An English law firm, Soosmiths, has an article on their website that discusses the Ministry of Justice statements on the causes of the increase in such cases in England. The increase is as much as 700% over prior years!
English law is different from Texas law but the law firm notes several reasons that I have previously discussed like the change in the family structure and the fact that we are living longer. The English article also talks about self made or do it yourself wills being a cause (more…)