Interest Under Will Did Not Revert Back To Estate

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In Roberts v. Wilson, the El Paso Court of Appeals ruled that the wife of a beneficiary under a will was entitled to her husband’s interest in real property because he survived his parents and the bequeath did not have a reverter clause. No. 08-11-00153-CV, 2012 Tex. App. LEXIS 5355 (Tex. App.—El Paso July 5, 2012, no pet.). A mother and father both executed similar wills that devised their estates to each other and provided that upon the death of the last of them all of their property was to be left to their three children in equal shares. The father died first, and then the mother died. Paragraph 5.03 of the mother’s will provides: “On the date of the execution of my Will, my son, Gerald Wade Wilson, has no child or children or their descendants, and in the event he dies without child or children or their descendants, all property herein devised and bequeathed to him shall pass to and vest in the other two (2) devisees and legatees, in equal shares.” Her son Gerald was alive at the time of his mother’s death, but died shortly thereafter without leaving any children, though he did have a wife.

After Gerald’s death, a sibling filed an affidavit in the real property records and claimed that the property inherited by Gerald from his mother was subject to a reverter clause contained in Paragraph 5.03 of the will. Gerald’s widow filed a petition for partition of real and personal property and a declaratory judgment relating to property inherited by her deceased husband by operation of his parents’ wills. Gerald’s siblings filed a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment. The trial court awarded partial summary judgment to the widow.

The first issue was whether the widow had standing to raise a claim under Gerald’s parents’ wills. The court held that the widow was an "interested person" with standing to contest a will. The court then set out the general rules for will construction. The proper standard for reviewing a will is to examine the testator's intent, which is ascertained by looking at the language contained within the four corners of the will. If possible, a court must harmonize all parts of the will and consider every sentence, clause, and word in ascertaining the testator's intent. The siblings argued that 5.03 created a "reverter" or defeasible or determinable fee interest, and asserted that the interpretation of such reverter is that if Gerald died without a child, at any point in time, his share in the estate passed to them.

The court disagreed and held that the rule of construction provides that “a provision in a will providing for a devise over to another after the remainderman dies without issue means death prior to the termination of the intervening estate, and that the remainderman is vested with fee simple title at the termination of such prior intervening estate, unless the language of the will discloses a different intent.” So, once Gerald’s parents died and he was alive, the property vested in him. If he had predeceased his parents, then his portion of the property would have gone to his siblings. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment for the widow.