Standing to Contest Inter Vivos Deed

Jansen v. Fitzpatrick, 14 S.W.3d 426 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, no pet.).


Testatrix deeded real property to Niece about two month’s prior to Testatrix’s death. Residuary Beneficiaries and their successors in interest filed suit to set aside the deed on the grounds of lack of capacity and undue influence so they could share in this real property. While the litigation was pending, other Residuary Beneficiaries died and their successors in interest were substituted.

Niece, who was also serving as the independent executrix, asserted by way of a motion in limine that the successors in interest must demonstrate their interests and authenticate their claims by obtaining a determination of heirship or by some other judicial proceeding in the county of the residence of their deceased ascendant. The lower court determined that the successors had not demonstrated that they were “interested parties” as defined in Probate Code § 3(r) and thus dismissed the case for lack of standing.

The appellate court reversed. The court first noted “that a motion in limine is not the proper procedural tool to challenge a party’s standing to sue or a court’s jurisdiction to hear a claim in a suit seeking to set aside a deed.” Jensen at 430. Instead, a plea to the jurisdiction should be used.

The court determined that it had jurisdiction over the case because Niece admitted in her pleadings that the successors in interest plead their status as successors and the pleadings demonstrated that the successors in interest had standing. Niece introduced no evidence to show that the pleadings were false and thus she failed to establish that the court lacked jurisdiction.

Moral: Problems may arise when the original parties to an action die and successors in interest take over. To avoid these problems, the status of the successors and should be clearly documented and presented to the court.