Interpretation and Construction

Rights of Life Tenant

Singleton v. Donalson, 117 S.W.3d 516 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2003, pet. denied).


Testatrix devised a life estate in real property to her husband (Life Tenant) with the balance passing to named relatives (Remainder Beneficiaries) upon his death. Remainder Beneficiaries asserted that Life Tenant breached his duties by consuming and using the royalties and bonuses received from oil and gas produced on the real property. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Life Tenant and the appellate court affirmed.

The court recognized that oil and gas royalties and bonuses are usually considered corpus. However, Testatrix’s will clearly showed that she intended to grant Life Tenant the right to consume and dispose of the royalties and bonuses. The court focused on the language Testatrix used to grant the life estate. She expressly included “fee, surface, minerals, royalties,” indicated that Life Tenant was “to enjoy the use and benefits, including the income” of the property, and permitted Life Tenant to use these benefits “as he sees fit.”

Moral: A person devising a life estate should clearly indicate the rights of the life tenant and the remainder beneficiaries.