Neal v. Neal, No. 01-19-00427-CV (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] Mar. 18, 2021, no pet. h.).


Will Contest

Testamentary Capacity and Undue Influence

The probate court admitted the decedent’s will to probate as a muniment of title over objections of an omitted child who claimed his mother lacked testamentary capacity and was undue influenced by another child. After reviewing medical and banking records and hearing testimony from the decedent’s relatives and the attorney who drafted the will, the court found that the decedent was of sound mind and admitted the will to probate. The court did not make a specific finding regarding the existence of undue influence. The omitted child appealed.

The appellate court affirmed. The court began its discussion by reviewing the basic principles of when a person has testamentary capacity. Then, the court examined the evidence, including the witnesses’ testimony and the medical records, holding that the trial court’s finding that the decedent had capacity was not against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence. The court recognized that the decedent did have a stroke and cerebrovascular disease leading to cognitive deficits. In addition, there was conflicting testimony from the witnesses regarding the decedent’s mental condition. However, this evidence was not sufficient to set aside the court’s finding of  testamentary capacity.

The court next examined the probate court’s disregard of evidence allegedly showing the decedent was subject to undue influence. The court explained that there was no evidence that any family member was involved with the will. The decedent contacted her lawyer directly and even told her that she did not want her family involved with how she was planning on distributing her estate. In addition, the fact that the primary beneficiary was in a position to exercise undue influence is not evidence that he exercised it. The court concluded its analysis stating that there was no evidence beyond speculation of the exercise of undue influence and thus the probate court’s implied finding of no undue influence was not against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence.

Moral:  A probate court’s finding the testator had testamentary capacity and was not undue influenced is difficult to overturn on appeal.