Texas Court of Appeals

In Odom v. Coleman, a brother and a sister sued each other regarding their father’s estate. No. 01-19-00669-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 9551 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] December 8, 2020, no pet.). The dispute centered on whether the father’s will should be reformed pursuant to Texas Estates Code Section 255.451(a)(3) that permits a court to modify or reform a will if “necessary to correct a scrivener’s error in the terms of the will, even if unambiguous, to conform with the testator’s intent,” which must be established by clear and convincing evidence. Id. The will contained a residuary clause that devised “personal property” to the son and then to the daughter. A strict reading of the will meant that the decedent’s real property would not be included in the residuary clause and would pass by intestancy. The son sued to reform the will to omit the word “personal” in the residuary clause. The trial court ruled for the son and the daughter appealed.
Continue Reading Court Affirmed Trial Court’s Reformation Of A Will To Omit The Word “Personal” From The Term “Property” In A Residuary Clause

A business divorce may mean that the owners need to sell the business or the business’s assets. In the following case, some of the owners/officers took advantage of a sale transaction to benefit from that transaction at the expense of their co-owners. In Rex Performance Prods., LLC v. Tate, a company sued its former officers for breaching fiduciary duties related to the sale of the company’s assets. No. 02-20-00009-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 10465 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth December 31, 2020, no pet.). The company alleged that the officers intentionally drove down the price of the sale in order to obtain a separate bonus from the buyer. The defendants alleged that the plaintiff knew of the side bonus agreement and consummated the transaction anyway, thereby establishing a waiver or ratification. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed.
Continue Reading Business Divorce: Court Found That There Was A Fact Question On Whether Officers Violated Fiduciary Duties By Obtaining A Side Bonus From A Purchaser When Negotiating A Sale Of The Company’s Assets

In Maxey v. Maxey, in a dispute that arose from the probate of an estate, two sisters mediated and reached a settlement agreement concerning the division of certain real property. No. 01-19-00078-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 10281 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] December 29, 2020, no pet. history). The two sisters disagreed on how they would divide property among certain trusts, and they sued one another. After mediation, they entered into a settlement agreement that purported to divide the real property. Then the parties disagreed on what the settlement agreement meant, and once again sued each other regarding breach of the agreement. The trial court found the settlement agreement was ambiguous and submitted the meaning of the agreement to a jury. After the jury trial, the court entered judgment on the verdict, and the losing sister appealed.
Continue Reading Court Reversed Jury Trial And Determined That Settlement Agreement Dividing Real Property Owned By Trusts Was Not Ambiguous

In In the Estate of Maberry, the alleged common-law wife of an intestate decedent did not have standing to seek to remove the decedent’s daughter as independent administrator because she was not an “interested person” following her voluntary release of all her rights in the estate in a settlement agreement. No. 11-18-00349-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 10447 (Tex. App.—Eastland December 31, 2020, no pet. history). In the agreement, the alleged heir agreed to accept $2,000 “as consideration for compromise, settlement and release of all claim of [Harper] to any part of the Estate.” The heir then contended that she did not release her right to receive an inheritance from the estate, she only released “claims” against the estate, and her right to receive an inheritance from the estate was not a claim against the estate.
Continue Reading Court Held That An Heir Of An Estate Who Released All Claims Against The Estate Via A Settlement Agreement No Longer Had Standing To Bring Suit

In Ackers v. Comerica Bank & Trust, N.A., an income beneficiary sued a trustee for a declaration regarding the construction of a testamentary trust. No. 11-18-00352-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 10442 (Tex. App.—Eastland December 31, 2020, no pet. history). The will provided that the income beneficiary was to receive the income from the corpus of the trust during his lifetime, and upon his death, the trust would terminate and the corpus of the trust would pass to the “then-living descendants” of the income beneficiary. The income beneficiary brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination that some of his descendants should be excluded at his death, and the trial court entered summary judgment that the relief sought was not ripe for consideration.
Continue Reading Court Held That The Issue Of Who Was Included In The Class Of Descendants Was Not Ripe Until The Current Beneficiary Dies

In Marshall v. Marshall, a son, who was a trust beneficiary, sued his mother and brother alleging breaches of fiduciary duty and sought a declaratory judgment that they violated an in terrorem clause of the will. No. 14-18-00094-CV, No. 14-18-00095-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 423 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] January 21, 2021, no pet. history). The mother had created a similar Wyoming trust and then merged the original Texas trust into the Wyoming trust. The beneficiaries were essentially the same, but there were administrative differences, including who the trustees and successor trustees were and the wording of the in terrorem clauses. The mother also had a lawsuit filed in Wyoming to approve all of these changes, but did not serve the plaintiff. The defendants filed motions to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”), the trial court denied them, and they appealed.
Continue Reading Court Holds That Allegations Related To A Trustee’s Filing Of Suit Did Fall Under The Protection Of The Texas Citizens Participation Act, That A Trustee’s Actions To Modify Administrative Terms Did Not Trigger An In Terrorem Clause, But That Other Actions Unrelated To Suit Filings Were Not Protected From The Act

In In re Ruff Mgmt. Trust, the settlor and primary beneficiary sought and obtained a modification of a trust regarding who could name a successor trustee. No. 05-19-01505-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 9467 (Tex. App.—Dallas December 3, 2020, no pet. history). The trust document provided that the settlor and her son would name a successor trustee. If they did not do so, then the settlor’s children would automatically be named co-trustees. The settlor had previously had a very contentious arbitration dispute with her son, and sought to modify the trust to have it state that she could, by herself, name a successor trustee. After the trial court granted that relief, the settlor’s other children (other than the son) appealed that decision. The court of appeals affirmed the modification, not because there was evidence to support it, but because the modification allegedly did not affect the appealing children’s rights.
Continue Reading Court Affirmed An Order Modifying A Trust Where The Complaining Beneficiaries Were Not Affected By The Modification, Where The Modification Was Not Contrary To The Purpose Of The Trust, And Where The Beneficiaries Waived Their Right To A Jury Trial

In Denson v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Sandra Denson went to her bank to deposit $730 when a $50 bill became temporarily stuck in the cash counting machine, causing the teller to miscount the amount of the deposit as $680. No. 01-19-00107-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 9412 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] December 3, 2020, no pet. history). Denson then cursed at the teller, calling her “stupid” and a “dumb bitch,” told her that she needed her “ass whipped,” and suggested that the teller needed to be retrained and that the teller was “going to keep that $50 for lunch.”
Continue Reading Court Holds That Bank Did Not Owe Fiduciary Duties To Depositor/Customer

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In In the Estate of Hohmann, the decedent died without leaving an executed will, but his caretaker found a hand written document wherein the decedent stated his wishes for his property. No. 04-20-00237-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 9216 (Tex. App.—San Antonio November 25, 2020, no pet. history). The decedent’s cousin filed an application to probate the hand written document as a written will, and an heir of the decedent filed an opposition. The trial court granted summary judgment for the opponent, and the applicant appealed.
Continue Reading Court Holds That Holographic Will Was Not Valid As There Was No Signature

In Cohen v. Newbiss Prop., a limited partner sued a transferee of real property for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy to breach fiduciary duty. No. 01-19-00397-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 9190 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] November 24, 2020, no pet. history). While the limited partners were suing the general partner, the defendants/transferees bought the property. The trial court granted the transferees’ motion for summary judgment, and the limited partners appealed.
Continue Reading Court Holds That Purchaser Of Partnership Property Was Not Liable For Aiding And Abetting A General Partner’s Breach Of Fiduciary Duty