Will contests

17 January 2017

Court may construe a will before it is admitted to probate

Many will contests involve a challenge to the validity of a will, such as claims it did not meet formality requirements or that the testator lacked capacity or was subjected to undue influence. However, sometimes the primary dispute is how to interpret one or more provisions of a will. I find this to be most often the case when the will is not prepared by an experienced estate planing lawyer. Unfortunately, homemade wills often contain confusing, unclear, or outright contradictory provisions.  Or a testator may have an excellent will drafted by a lawyer, only to make a homemade codicil that […]
17 November 2016

Estate of Koontz: Another summary judgment overturned

Estate of Koontz is a very recent decision from the San Antonio Court of Appeals.  The trial court in Bandera County had granted summary judgment against a will contestant’s claims of lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. The trial court also ordered the contestant to pay the executor $18,029.49 in attorney’s fees, finding the contest was not brought in good faith or with just cause.  The court of appeals reversed the summary judgment ruling and the award of attorney’s fees. The primary evidence in response to the motion for summary judgment was the affidavit of the contestant.  Because he brought the contest after the […]
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 […]
27 February 2016

In re Estate of Parrimore: Court of appeals upholds factual findings regarding capacity and undue influence

Texas appellate courts are generally reluctant to overturn trial court factual findings regarding testamentary capacity and undue influence. In re Estate of Parrimore, from the Houston 14th Court of Appeals, is an example. Parrimore involved a trial to the judge (bench trial) of a will contest.  The contest involved the usual issues regarding testamentary capacity and undue influence. The evidence at trial was that the testator signed the will only 11 days after being released from the hospital for treatment after a stroke. However, there was also evidence that the testator had begun work on his will long before the […]
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