Estate of Riefler, 540 S.W.3d 626 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2017, no pet.).

Estate Administration

Settlement Agreements


The testator died with a will leaving his entire estate to his spouse who had predeceased him. The will lacked a residuary clause and thus his estate passed by intestacy. The testator had no biological descendants. A dispute arose centered on whether his daughter-in-law was adopted by estoppel which would make her the sole heir. Before any trial court rulings, the parties reached a settlement after ten hours of mediation. Later, one of the parties to the agreement (appellant) objected claiming that (1) he was under the influence of prescription medication when he signed the agreement, (2) Dallas County Probate Court approval of the agreement is required before it could be approved by the County Court at Law where the estate was pending, and (3) he was misled regarding the value of the estate property. The trial court rejected all three claims.


The appellate court affirmed. The court explained that the language in the agreement about Dallas County Probate Court approval only dealt with property to be distributed to an individual under guardianship, not the entire agreement. And, it was the appellant’s fault that the Probate Court did not review the agreement as he failed to seek that approval.


The opinion contains a nice summary of basic family settlement agreement law. The agreement in the case fell squarely within the doctrine as all possible beneficiaries of the testator’s estate entered in the agreement which resolved their disputes and it contained a comprehensive disposition plan for the testator’s assets.


The court also held that the trial court’s determination that the appellant had the capacity to enter into the settlement agreement was not against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence such that is was clearly wrong or unjust. In fact, the appellant admitted that he did not “cut a good deal” and wanted “to get out of it.”


Moral:  Family settlements are a good way of resolving estate disputes. However, there is always a fear of “settlement remorse” and a remorseful party making claims with little or no merit in an attempt to set aside the agreement.