Estate Administration


In re Estate of Armstrong, 155 S.W.3d 448 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2004, no pet.).


Daughter was appointed as the temporary administratrix of Testator’s estate after she submitted an application to which she attached a copy of Testator’s will. Alleged Common Law Wife (ACLW) contested asserting Testator had revoked the will. Daughter agreed and thereafter claimed that Testator died intestate and sought to be appointed as the administratrix and for the court to determine heirship. Instead, the probate court appointed a third party as a successor temporary administrator because of the dispute over whether Testator was married to ACLW at the time of his death. After complex procedural maneuvering, the probate court determined in a motion in limine that ACLW was not Testator’s wife and because she was not an interested person with standing, denied her plea to intervene in the case to dispute the payment of various estate expenses. Next, the court determined that she was also precluded from presenting the issue of her marital status to a jury in the heirship proceeding. The court reasoned that the in limine finding that she was not married to Testator was conclusive for purposes of the heirship proceeding.

After a careful review of similar Texas cases, the appellate court held that the probate court’s determination of standing at the in limine hearing was a collateral matter to the issue of the propriety of the payment of administration expenses. Accordingly, this finding was not conclusive for purposes of the heirship proceeding and ACLW was not barred from seeking a jury trial in the heirship action.

Moral: A person seeking to establish a right to inherit as a common law spouse must make careful strategic decisions on how to proceed to make certain he or she is not inadvertently precluded from pursuing the claim.