Matter of Estate of Ethridge, No. 11-17-00291-CV, 2019 WL 5617630 (Tex. App.—Eastland Oct. 31, 2019, no pet. h.).




"Personal Effects"

Testatrix’s self-prepared will left her “personal effects” to her nephew-in-law and did not contain a residuary clause. The nephew-in-law asserted that “personal effects” included cash, receivables, and oil and gas interests and royalties. Instead, testatrix’s heirs asserted that this property passed to them via intestacy and the trial court agreed. The court also found that the nephew-in-law who was serving as the independent executor misapplied estate property and removed him under Estates Code § 404.003(2). Nephew-in-law appealed.


The appellate court affirmed. After concluding that the will was not ambiguous, the court explained that extrinsic evidence is unnecessary and that her intent must be found within the four corners of the will. The court rejected the nephew-in-law’s assertion that the phrase “personal effects” was meant to encompass her entire estate except for the devise of her homestead which had adeemed. The court explained that “personal effects” is a narrow subset of personal property including “articles bearing intimate relation or association to the person of the testator” such as clothing, jewelry, eyeglasses, luggage, and similar items. The term would not encompass real property including mineral interests.


Moral:  Wills should contain residuary clauses to prevent intestacy. And, of course, wills should be prepared by attorneys skilled in estate planning and not by the testator him- or herself.