Yost v. Fails, 534 S.W.3d 517 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2017, no pet.).


Will Contests

Undue Influence


The jury determined that Testatrix signed her will because of undue influence. The trial court granted the proponent of the will a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The appellate court reversed.


The court began its analysis by setting forth the traditional elements of undue influence: “(1) an influence existed and was exerted, (2) the exertion of the influence subverted or overpowered the mind of the testator at the time she signed the will, and (3) the testator would not have made the will but for the influence.” Yost at 524. The court determined that the legal sufficiency of the evidence supported the jury’s finding of undue influence. Facts the court discussed included how Testatrix became dependent on the beneficiary of her new will, the beneficiary became her agent under a power of attorney and depleted Testatrix’s assets for his own purposes, and the shenanigans that occurred during the preparation and execution of the will.


Moral:  An appellate court will carefully examine the evidence to determine whether sufficient proof exists to support a jury’s finding of undue influence.


Estate Administration

Attorney's Fees


The jury determined that Proponent did not probate Testatrix’s will in good faith and with just cause because Proponent exercised undue influence over Testatrix to get her to execute the will. The trial court granted Proponent a judgment notwithstanding the verdict thus entitling Proponent to recover his attorney’s fees from the estate under Estates Code § 352.052(a). The appellate court reversed.


The court explained that the existence of good faith is a question of fact for the jury. The court will uphold the jury finding unless the evidence conclusively established Proponent’s good faith. The court held that such evidence did not exist and thus the trial court erred in disregarding the jury’s finding.


Moral:  A jury’s finding of lack of good faith in a will proponent’s attempt to probate a will is difficult to set aside as conclusive evidence of good faith is needed to do so.



Tortious Interference With Inheritance Rights


The jury and the appellate court agreed that the proponent of a will procured by undue influence tortiously interfered with the inheritance rights of a beneficiary of a prior will. Despite being decided three weeks after Kinsel v. Lindsey, the court did not discuss the impact of this Texas Supreme Court opinion on the case.