Matter of Estate of Rushing, 644 S.W.3d 383 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2022, no pet. h.).

Estate Administration


Insured died without removing his Ex-wife as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy governed by the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance Act. However, Ex-wife disclaimed her interest in the policy in their divorce decree. After Insured died, the insurance company made a partial disbursement to Ex-wife. Administrator of Insured’s estate asserted a claim in the county court for a constructive trust over the insurance proceeds. The court determined it had jurisdiction over Administrator’s claim and imposed the constructive trust. Ex-wife appealed claiming the county court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.


The appealed court reversed. The court held that (1) Administrator’s motion was neither a probate proceeding nor related to a probate proceeding, (2) the county court could not exercise pendant or ancillary jurisdiction over the claim, and (3) the county court lacked jurisdiction to enforce Ex-wife’s waiver in the divorce decree. The court explained that the life insurance policy is a nonprobate asset and passes according to its contractual terms and not through the probate process. Administrator’s claim may have lacked a sufficient close relationship to the probate of Insured’s estate. However, the court did not have to reach that issue because the proceed value of the policy exceeded the amount-in-controversy limits applicable to pendent and ancillary claims.


Moral:  A litigant must be certain the court has subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Disputes over non-probate assets are unlikely to within the purview of a probate case.