Valdez v. Hollenbeck, 465 S.W.3d 217 (Tex. 2015).

Estate Administration

Bill of Review


Heirs sought to reopen an estate administration by using a bill of review ten years after it was closed and more than three years after learning that a probate court clerk had stolen over $500,000 from the estate. The probate court denied a statutory bill of review because two years had past since the date of closing but granted the heirs’ request for an equitable bill of review by applying the longer four year period and the discovery rule. The heirs then litigated their claims and prevailed against the administrator and surety both at the trial and appellate levels.


The Supreme Court of Texas reversed holding that the time period to bring a bill of review had elapsed. The heirs’ ability to bring a bill of review was governed by the Probate Code’s (now Estates Code § 55.251) two year period. In effect, the Code’s time period abrogated the equitable bill of review in a probate context. Accordingly, the heir’s action was untimely regardless of whether limitations was tolled until they discovered the actions of the evil probate clerk. Note that although the court did not approve of tolling based on the discovery rule, it left open the issue of whether tolling should be allowed when violations of fiduciary duties and fraudulent concealment are at issue.


Moral:  In the probate context, bills of review are statutorily based, not based on equity. Thus, the statutory two-year period applies. The Texas Supreme Court indicated its unwillingness to approve a discovery rule generally but left open the possibility that a discovery rule might be acceptable if the claim is based on a breach of fiduciary duty coupled with fraudulent concealment of that breach.