Fiduciary duty

13 September 2018

Court rejects undue influence claim regarding account designations

Many assets pass through beneficiary designations. A significant part of my Texas estate litigation practice involves contesting life insurance beneficiary designations and contesting financial account designations. In Fielding v. Tullos, the Beaumont Court of Appeals considered a contest to financial account designations, based on claims of undue influence. The decedent had various financial accounts at UBS. He was widowed and had no children. His legal heirs included six nieces and nephews. A caretaker began working for the decedent and his wife in 1997. She continued working for the decedent after his wife died in in 2004.  In 2004, the decedent […]
22 June 2018

Sibling has standing to complain of another sibling

In Mayfield v. Peek, the El Paso Court of Appeals considered a standing issue.  Standing may sound like a dry issue, particularly to non-lawyers.  But is a crucial issue to my practice of litigating Texas estate and trust beneficiary disputes.  If a court rules that a party does not have standing, it will typically not even reach the merits of the underlying issue.  In layman’s terms, the courthouse doors are closed. Mayfield involved two siblings fighting over an inheritance from their parents. The parents had set up a family revocable trust their children and several other relatives.  The trust was […]
4 March 2018

Yes, a deed can be overturned

A deed is typically considered a non-testamentary disposition.  Property that has been deeded away, either directly or through a retained life estate, is not included in a grantor’s estate at death. But are there ways to overturn a deed under Texas law? Yes.  Like a will or an account/insurance designation, a deed can be set aside if a grantor lacked sufficient mental capacity to execute the deed.  Or if the grantor was subjected to undue influence in executing the deed. The analysis will be similar to a will contest. Mental capacity is relatively straightforward, even if the proof is often […]
5 July 2016

Estoppel does not prevent beneficiary from pre-suit discovery

The Fort Worth Court of Appeals decision in In Re Meeker involves two important issues for probate litigators: entitlement to pre-suit discovery and estoppel based on acceptance of benefits. Both issues arise fairly regularly in will contests. Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 202 provides a limited method to obtain discovery of facts before actually filing a suit.  It is a useful tool when a litigant suspects they have a valid claim, but wish to investigate further before actually filing suit. There are some exacting requirements of the rule and the discovery tools are more limited than would be allowed in […]
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