Henry v. Brooks, 651 S.W.3d 657 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2022, no pet. h.).

Estate Administration

Claims of Estate

Surviving Spouse and Step-Daughter owned the spouse’s homestead in equal undivided shares upon Deceased Spouse’s death. Surviving Spouse exercised his right to continued to occupy the homestead. At the time of Deceased Spouse’s death, the homestead was subject to a loan. Surviving Spouse quickly remarried and died five years later leaving his estate to New Spouse. Thus, New Spouse and Step-Daughter owed the property in equal undivided shares. New Spouse continued to live in the home. Step-Daughter then brought a partition action seeking to sell the property to the highest bidder. New Spouse, both individually and as executor of Surviving Spouse’s estate, counterclaimed seeking reimbursement for funds Surviving Spouse and New Spouse had spent on the property which benefited Step-Daughter. The trial court denied the claim and New Spouse appealed.

The Tyler Court of Appeals began its discussion by explaining the general rights of life tenants and of tenants in common. The court then applied those principles to the various expenses for which New Spouse sought reimbursement. With regard to the principal portion of loan payments Surviving Spouse paid, New Spouse was entitled to be reimbursed for one-half of that amount, that is, the amount by which Step-Daughter was unjustly enriched. Step-Daughter was unsuccessful in claiming that the right to reimbursement did not survive Surviving Spouse’s death. The court held that a reimbursement claim is a vested right which survives the death of the life tenant. However, the court held that New Spouse was not entitled to reimbursement for the payments she made after Surviving Spouse died because she continued to live in the property without interference from the co-tenant Step-Daughter and thus received a quid pro quo for the payments. [The court also looked at a reimbursement claim for an access easement and found the trial court was within its discretion to deny the claim based on the facts and surrounding circumstances.]

Moral:  If a life tenant pays expenses that a co-tenant or owner of a remainder interest should pay such as the principal of a loan, the reimbursement right survives to the life tenant’s estate.