The Dallas Court of Appeals’ decision in Estate of Pilkilton highlights key points for those of us who handle will contests in Texas. The case originated in Grayson County, where one judge found that the testator was “totally incapacitated” in the context of a guardianship dispute. While, after death, another judge held that, during the same general time period, the testator had testamentary capacity to execute a new will.
The will contestants contended that, under the principal of collateral estoppel, the second judge was prevented from finding that the testator had capacity to execute the will. The Court of Appeals rejected that contention, holding that “a finding of incapacity in a guardianship proceeding is different from a finding of a lack of testamentary capacity in a will contest.”
This appears to have been a very close case, based on the facts recited in the decision. One wonders if the case would have been decided differently if it had been tried to a jury instead of a judge. This case emphasizes that appellate courts are generally reluctant to overturn trial court findings regarding testamentary capacity, whether determined by a judge or a jury.