In the Estate of Perez-Muzza, 446 S.W.3d 415 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2014, pet. denied)


Will Contests



The trial court dismissed will contestant’s action for lack of standing on the ground that she was estopped from contesting the will.  Even though she was not a beneficiary under the will, she had already accepted property that belonged to the decedent, had accepted the benefits of a non-probate asset, and had entered into an agreement with other estopped individuals.  The appellate court reversed.


The court begin its analysis by recognizing that a person who has standing to contest a will under Estates Code §§ 55.001 and 22.018 may lose that standing if the person accepts benefits under the will.  The court explained that the contestant did not accept benefits under the will because she merely received some of the decedent’s property from a donee of the will’s beneficiary.  (The property in question went from the testator’s estate, to the will beneficiary who then gave it to a third person who later gave it to the contestant.)


The court then addressed whether the contestant’s acceptance of funds from a pay on death account the testator established would prevent her from contesting the will.  The court explained that accepting benefits of a non-probate asset is not the same as accepting benefits under a will and thus the acceptance could not operate as an estoppel.


The court also rejected the argument that the contestant was estopped because she entered into an agreement to share the proceeds of any future settlement of the will contest with parties who were actually estopped from contesting.  Likewise, the court determined the trial court’s dismissal of the contest as a sanction for the contestant’s misstatements in her affidavit was too extreme of a sanction for her misbehavior and actually deprived her of due process.


Moral:  Even though the contestant in this case was allowed to continue with her action, it would be prudent for a will contestant to refrain from accepting property that came from the testator’s estate and to be truthful when submitting documents to the court, signing affidavits, and giving testimony.