Jinkins v. Jinkins, 522 S.W.3d 771 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2017, no pet.).




A dispute arose between full siblings and half siblings over the ownership of certain land. The full siblings claimed that upon their mother’s death, the property passed into a trust which was solely for their benefit. The half siblings (children of step-mother) claim that the property was owned by their father (the father of all the siblings) until his death fifty years later and passed to all siblings equally under the terms of his will. The trial court examined the documents and the complex transactions that occurred for over half a century and concluded that the disputed property passed under the father’s will to all four of his children equally. The full siblings appealed.


The appellate court reversed. The court explained that the property indeed passed into the trust when the full siblings’ mother died and thus the property belongs solely to them. To reach this result, the court had to engage in some very sophisticated estate and future interest discussion which will demonstrate to my students that the time we spend on these issues in class is important and not merely an academic exercise.


The disputed property was originally held in the paternal grandparents’ trust. The father was the remainder beneficiary of this trust. The joint will of the full siblings’ mother allegedly transferred this property into the trust before the last grandparent died. The court determined that the remainder interest was vested (father was born, ascertained, and no conditions precedent existed to his taking other than the natural expiration of the life estate) and thus was transferable.


The court next examined the joint will to determine if it acted to transfer the remainder interest of the surviving spouse (father) into the trust. The plain language of the joint will provided that upon the death of the first to die (the mother of the full siblings), all property subject to disposition by the surviving spouse (father) would pass into the trust. Since the father’s remainder interest was transferable, it passed into the trust solely for the benefit of the full siblings.


The court also rejected other more tenuous arguments of the half siblings such as that the father’s will revoked the irrevocable trust, the father had transferred property out of the trust so that it was no longer governed by the trust’s terms, the half siblings were entitled to share as pretermitted children despite being express beneficiaries of the father’s will, and the applicability of the two year will contest statute of limitations to bar the action.


Moral:  More straightforward estate planning strategies may reduce the need for resolving cases that use archaic techniques such as joint wills.