In re Estate of Johnson, 340 S.W.3d 769 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2011, pet. denied).

Wills

Undue Influence

 

The jury determined that certain of Testator’s wills and trusts were invalid because they were executed as a result of undue influence. The appellate court affirmed. The court began with an extensive discussion of the law of undue influence and the leading Texas cases. It then went through each element of undue influence reviewing some of the evidence developed during the four month trial which supported the jury’s determination that the elements of undue influence were satisfied.

Moral: Overturning a jury finding of undue influence on appeal is difficult. Accordingly, the will proponent should present the best evidence at trial.

 

Estate Administration

Attorneys’ Fees

Will Proponent

 

The jury determined that will proponents probated wills (and thus contested other wills) in good faith and with just cause. The jury then awarded over $3 million in reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees under Probate Code § 243. The appellate court affirmed the award rejecting the argument that the award of fees was improper because the individual plaintiffs did not personally pay the fees but that they were instead paid by trusts created for their benefit. The court explained that the manner in which attorneys’ fees are paid does not preclude their recovery.

Moral: The court may award attorneys’ fees under Probate Code § 243 even if the claimant did not personally pay or advance those fees.

Trusts

Attorneys’ Fees

Successful Contestant

The jury awarded the successful contestants of several trusts over $3 million in reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees. The appellate court affirmed. The court explained that Trust Code § 114.064 permits the trial court to make the award in any manner that is “equitable and just.” The court examined the evidence and found it sufficient to show that the trial court did not abuse its discretion or make an award by acting without reference to any guiding rules or principles. The court rejected the claim that it is not equitable or just to award attorneys’ fees in favor of individuals who did not personally pay the fees but where the fees were instead paid by trusts created for their benefit.

Moral: The court may award attorneys’ fees under Trust Code § 114.064 even if the claimant did not personally pay or advance those fees.



Back