Will contests

11 July 2018

Estate of Harrell: Jury finds testator had capacity

In Estate of Harrell, the testator’s daughter challenged her father’s capacity to execute a will.  The jury found he had capacity and the Houston Court of Appeals (1st. Dist.) affirmed that decision. The father executed the challenged will in 2012.  The will specifically identified the daughter, but disinherited her.  Instead, he gave his property generally to the sons of a close friend and to his brother.  This was contrary to a will he had executed in 1999. The father died in 2016.  Daughter contested the 2012 will, citing her father’s alleged alcoholism and a hoarding disorder. She also cited the […]
9 June 2018

Court finds evidence to establish lack of capacity

In Estate of Danford, the County Court in Brazoria County had dismissed a will contest at the summary judgment stage.  In essence, the trial court found that the contestants to the offered will had not presented sufficient evidence to get to trial on either lack of capacity or undue influence claims.  The Houston 14th Court of Appeals disagreed. Regarding capacity, the court of appeals noted the following evidence from the contestants: Neither of the will witnesses had previously known the testator Neither of the witnesses could confirm the witnesses knew she was signing a will; no one read the will […]
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 […]
19 October 2017

Court rejects effort to avoid settlement agreement

In my experience, the vast majority of will contests and related estate disputes are ultimately resolved through settlement at mediation.  The motivation for settlement is driven primarily by several factors: The high costs of litigation.  Lawyers and expert witnesses are expensive.  In some cases, the estate may be responsible for the fees of the  lawyers on both sides; The uncertainty of the results.  Estate cases tend to be very fact specific and the outcome at trial may be determined by how jurors view the contestants on a personal level; The effects of litigation on families.  Litigation often pits family members against […]
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