Court Affirmed Finding That Testator Had Capacity To Execute A Will, Was Not Unduly Influenced, And That The Appointment of Co-Executors Was Appropriate

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In In the Estate of Flarity, a son of the testator challenged the trial court’s probating of a 2004 will and the appointment of two of his siblings, named in that will, as executors. No. 09-19-00089-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 7536 (Tex. App.—Beaumont September 17, 2020, no pet. history). The contestant alleged that the testator did not have mental competence. The court of appeals disagreed. The court first addressed the standard for mental competency challenges:

In reviewing evidence addressing a testator’s capacity, we focus on the condition of the testator’s mind on the day the testator executed the will. Under Texas law, whether a testator has the testamentary capacity hinges on the condition of the testator’s mind the day the testator executed her will. Thus, the proponents of the will must prove that, when the testator signed the will, she could understand: the business in which she was engaged, the nature and extent of her property, the persons to whom she meant to devise and bequeath her property, the persons dependent on her bounty, the mode of distribution that she elected to choose among her beneficiaries, a sufficient memory so she could collect the elements of the business she wanted to transact and hold it in mind long enough to allow her to perceive the relationship between property and how she wanted to dispose of it, all so she could form reasonable judgments about doing those things.

Id. Applying those legal principals, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s finding that the testator had capacity. There was testimony from the two children that were executors that the testator knew what she was doing. The contestant relied on his own testimony that the testator suffered from recurring depression many times in her life, including 2004. The court held:

But there is no expert testimony showing Paula was clinically depressed. There are not medical records in evidence that support Joe’s claim. While Joe argues Paula was not being treated for her condition in 2004, he never established that she was suffering from depression that year, as the parties never developed evidence about whether Paula was or was not seeing doctors at any time for any reasons at a time relevant to the day Paula signed the will. Furthermore, even Joe and Becky never testified that Paula told them at any time in 2004 that she was being treated for depression.

Id. Further, the court held that the testator had a reason for her will and there was no evidence that the executors influenced her:

Generally, the evidence admitted in the trial reflects that Paula chose to give her children a percentage share of her estate based on how much time they spent with her as she aged. Joe does not contend the evidence shows he spent more time with Paula than his siblings. Nor does he suggest that Paula miscalculated how much time he spent with her when compared with his siblings. Instead, Joe argues that Wes and Merrie obtained a larger share because they spent more time with her. That may be true, but that evidence does not show that Merrie and Wes used their influence to get Paula to change her will in a way that favored them during a period that Paula could not freely make that decision on her own.

Id.

Finally, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s appointment of the co-executors. The court stated the legal standard as:

When a testator nominates a person to be the executor of her will, the law requires the probate court to appoint that person to that office unless one of the enumerated exceptions in the Estates Code applies. The exceptions allow the probate court to choose someone else other than the person the testator named if the person the testator named renounces the appointment, or the evidence shows the person is “not qualified,” statutorily disqualified, or “unsuitable” for the office. Since the Estates Code requires probate courts to appoint the person the testator nominated in her will absent one of the listed exceptions, Joe was required to prove in the trial that Wes and Merrie were not qualified, statutorily disqualified, or unsuitable for the office. Thus, since Joe is attacking an adverse finding on which he had the burden of proof in the trial, he “must demonstrate on appeal that the evidence establishes, as a matter of law, all vital facts in support of the issue.” To do that, he must show the evidence before the probate court conclusively shows one of the enumerated exceptions to the provisions requiring probate courts to appoint the person the testator designated applies

Id. The court held that evidence from the contestant of hostility was not sufficient to show that the co-executors were not suitable. The court also held that the fact that one of the co-executors let her son live in a home owned by the estate without the payment of rent was not a conflict as that could be viewed as a benefit to the estate (having someone protect and upkeep estate property) and that the co-executor was a part owner of the home and had the right to have her son live there without paying rent (in the absence of an objection co-owner). The court of appeals affirmed the trial court in all things.

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