ConocoPhillips Co. v. Ramirez, No. 17-0822, 2020 WL 399313 (Tex. Jan. 24, 2020).



A dispute arose whether a provision in the testatrix’s will devised only the surface estate or both the surface and mineral estates. The trial and intermediate appellate courts held that the testatrix devised both estates. However, the Supreme Court of Texas reversed holding that the testatrix only devised the surface estate.


The provision in question provided the testator devised “all . . . right, title and interest in and to Ranch ‘Las Piedras.’” The court summarized a complex series of land transactions over a period of approximately eighty years. The court then took notice of the fact that the testator placed the name of the ranch in quotes supporting the argument that the term had a specific meaning to the testatrix and her family. By examining extrinsic evidence of the surrounding circumstances such as prior partition agreements using the name of the ranch which expressly stated that mineral interests were not covered, the court determined that the testatrix’s intent was to devise only the surface estate.


Moral:  Devises should expressly state whether the surface estate, mineral estate, or both are included to make the exact scope of the devise clear.