Determination of Heirship
Parrish v. Rutherford, 159 S.W.3d 114 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi-Edinburg, 2004, no pet.).
The trial court declared that Alleged Heir was a daughter of Intestate. Known Heirs appealed on a variety of procedural and substantive grounds which the appellate court rejected. Procedurally, Known Heirs argued that they were entitled to a default judgment because Alleged Heir did not file an answer. In reality, the attorney ad litem appointed to represent unknown heirs filed an answer on the behalf of Alleged Heir. Known Heirs also incorrectly claimed that they were entitled to a default judgment because Alleged Heir did not attend the trial. In addition, Known Heirs tried to show that Alleged Heir had requested that she be withdrawn from the case but there was no evidence in the record to support this assertion and thus she had a justiciable interest in the case.
Known Heirs were also upset that Administratrix advocated for Alleged Heir to be deemed a child and was then awarded attorney’s fees for so doing. The appellate court explained that Administratrix has a duty to locate all Intestate’s heirs and distribute estate assets to them. Probate Code § 242 allows Administratrix to receive attorney fees from the estate for legal work properly performed in the administration process.
Substantively, the appellate court determined that there was sufficient evidence from Intestate’s wife and Alleged Heir’s mother to prove that Alleged Heir was intestate’s child. It did not matter that another witnesses was the attorney ad litem who had withdrawn from the case six months before trial.
Moral: Heirs will fight very hard to keep their shares in an intestate’s estate from being reduced by siblings whose parentage may be in doubt.