Estate Administration


Title Issues

Garza v. Rodriguez, 87 S.W.3d 628 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2002, pet. denied).


Testatrix’s will granted Nephew a fee simple interest in her estate subject to a shifting executory interest in Sister and her heirs if Nephew died without lawful issue of his body. However, the court order issued by the constitutional county court of Starr County in 1957 closing Testatrix’s estate appeared to grant fee simple absolute title to Nephew. The order did not mention Sister’s springing executory interest. No one challenged this order. Nephew died without lawful issue and thus Sister’s heirs asserted ownership to the property by filing a will construction action in district court in 1986. In Garza v. Rodriguez, 18 S.W.3d 694 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2000, no pet.), the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the action because of lack of jurisdiction. The court dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction.

Sister’s heirs then filed a lawsuit in the statutory county court of Starr County to establish their interest. Nephew’s heirs filed a motion to dismiss asserting that this suit was a collateral attack on a final order issued by the constitutional county court in 1957. Sister’s heirs responded by alleging that the 1957 order did not directly resolve the title issue raised by the springing executory interest and that if the order had divested Sister’s heirs of the interest, the court lacked jurisdiction to do so. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and Sister’s heirs appealed.

The appellate court reversed. The court held that the constitutional county court lacked jurisdiction under the laws as they existed in 1957 to construe Testatrix’s will to divest any party of any title interest. Thus, the 1957 order either did not resolve the title matter or if it did, the order was void and subject to collateral attack. The court then concluded that the statutory county court had jurisdiction to resolve the title issue.

Note that the appellate court was careful to explain that it was not commenting on the merits of Sister’s heirs’ claim to the property interest.

Moral: Probate orders must be carefully examined to be sure they correctly state the property interests to which the beneficiaries are entitled. Correction of errors at a later time may be difficult or perhaps impossible resulting in the intended beneficiaries losing their interests.