In a recent case before a court of appeals in Texas, the widow of a property owner had to defend her claim to the property that her husband left her in his will. At issue in the case was how to interpret the wills of both the decedent and the decedent’s mother; the decedent’s sons argued the documents made clear that the land belonged to them, while the widow argued that the land was clearly her property. Ultimately, the court of appeals agreed with the decedent’s widow that the property rightfully belonged to her, but the litigation took twelve years from beginning to end.
Facts of the Case
The defendant was the third wife of a man who passed away in 2010. Two years before his death, the man wrote a will that left all of his property to his wife if she survived him. Two of the man’s sons from a previous marriage, however, took issue with this provision after their father died. They claimed that 277 of the acres actually belonged to them – one large piece of property had originally been their grandmother’s, and their grandmother’s estate documents did not make clear whether the land should go to their father’s children or his wife after his death.
The sons initiated this litigation in December 2010. They argued the land qualified as something called a “life estate with a remainder interest”, which means that they were due to inherit the land after their father’s death. The man’s wife, however, argued that the land was actually something called a “fee simple interest”, which means the land should go directly to her as the designee in her husband’s will.
The court had to decide how to interpret the grandmother’s will and the father’s will to determine who, exactly, should inherit the property. Ultimately, the court agreed with the decedent’s wife, the defendant in this case. Because of the complexity of the estate documents, however, it took over a decade to bring this case to a close.
Unfortunately, when there is even the least bit of room for interpretation in a will or estate document, fights can break out between family members and loved ones. When property or other assets are on the line, disputes can become heated, even among the most well-intentioned of individuals. To avoid potential conflict, the best thing you can do for yourself is retain a thorough, detail-oriented estate planning attorney that can help you get ahead of these issues and produce clear instructions for your loved ones after you are gone.
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At McCulloch & Miller, PLLC, we provide peace of mind for those in the beginning, middle, or end of their estate planning process. We believe in offering high-quality, holistic services so that you can be sure your plans are thoughtfully laid out and will be expertly executed. For a consultation with a member of our team, give us a call today at 713-903-7879. You can also fill out our online form to have your questions answered.