Lawson v. Collins, No. 03-17-00003-CV, 2017 WL 4228728 (Tex. App.—Austin Sept. 20, 2017, no pet.).


Will Contests



The eleven children of the decedent had differing opinions regarding the validity of their mother’s will with some asserting that the will was valid while others claimed that the mother lacked capacity or that she was subject to fraud or undue influence when she executed the will. The children actively involved in the litigation signed a Rule 11 Mediated Settlement Agreement. This Agreement provided for binding arbitration if disputes under the Agreement later arose. Disputes did arise and the arbitration concluded. One of the children who was not previously involved with the litigation or settlement agreement then filed suit to contest the will. After the court granted a summary judgment against her, one of the children who agreed to the settlement opposed confirmation of the award and was joined by her unsuccessful sibling. The court rejected the opposition and signed an order confirming the award and ordering that it be enforced according to its terms. The child who initially agreed to the settlement appealed.


The appellate court affirmed. The court first addressed the child’s claim that she was coerced by the mediator to agree to the settlement. The court agreed that the trial court was not in error for not allowing a hearsay affidavit in support of her coercion claim. The court also agreed that it was permissible for the trial court to exclude a hearsay medical report showing that the child lacked the mental capacity to enter into the agreement. The court held that it did not matter that she did not sign the settlement agreement because the arbitration award is final once the arbitrator signs it; there is no requirement that the parties sign it as well. The court also rejected a multitude of other creative but ineffective arguments.


Moral:  Once a litigant agrees to settle a case, the litigant should not try to interfere with its later enforcement of the settlement merely because of “settlement remorse.”




The trial court refused to admit testimony of a handwriting expert that would show that a will was a forgery on the basis that he was not timely designated as a testifying expert. The appellate court rejected that claim that designation was not needed because the hearing was on merits of the case; it was not a preliminary hearing not on the merits where designation may not be a basis for excluding an expert’s testimony.


Moral:  A will contestant should timely designate testifying experts.