Merrick v. Helter, 500 S.W.3d 671 (Tex. App.—Austin 2016, pet. denied).


Will Contest

Improper Reason for Disinheritance


Testator’s will expressly disinherited Daughter. After the court admitted the will to probate, Daughter contested the will claiming that Testator’s motive for excluding her violated public policy thus making the will invalid. She claimed that Testator had abused her sexually and that disinheriting her was his “vengeance” when she confronted him about the abuse many decades later. Executor said that these claims against Testator were unsubstantiated and brought only in an attempt to obtain property from the estate. The probate court dismissed Daughter’s claim without reaching the merits of the claim because even if true, it would not provide her with a viable basis for setting aside the will. Daughter appealed.


The appellate court affirmed. The court examined Daughter’s claims that terms in a will may be unenforceable on public policy grounds. For example (mine, not the court’s), if a testator stated, “I leave Daughter $10,000 if you cut off my ex-wife’s right hand,” such provision would not be enforceable. Agreeing, of course, that Texas public policy condemns sexual abuse and related conduct, the court explained that nothing in the will addressed this topic. Daughter’s “challenge is grounded entirely in asserted conditions or limitations that appear nowhere in the will’s text.” Merrick at *3. The court also emphasized that Daughter had no right or entitlement to an inheritance. A testator may disinherit an heir for any reason be it just or unjust.


Moral:  A will contestant attempting to set aside a will or gift in the will on public policy grounds needs to point to express terms of the will which violate public policy.