Matter of Troy S. Poe Trust, No. 08-18-00074-CV, 2019 WL 4058593 (Tex. App.—El Paso Aug. 28, 2019, no pet. h.).

Trusts

Modification

The settlor expressly required the trustees to agree on all decisions. Unfortunately, they were combatants in other litigation and were unable to agree on several trust matters. One trustee obtained an order from the probate court to make various modifications to the trust. The other trustee appealed.

 

The appellate court reversed. The court explained that the trial court improperly rejected the other trustee’s request for a jury trial because the question of whether the trust needed to be modified was a fact question. Trust Code § 115.012 provides that normal civil procedure rules and statutes apply to trust actions. These rules and statutes, along with the Texas Constitution, guarantee the right to a jury trial. The trustee made a timely request for a jury trial (the court held the failure to pay the jury fee did not forfeit the right to claim error). The court rejected the claim that Trust Code § 112.054 precludes a jury trial on modification issues because it provides that the “court shall exercise its discretion” in determining the modifications. The court examined the statute and found no reasonable argument that jury trials were precluded on fact issues. Instead, the court is to use those factual findings in framing trust modifications. The court also rejected arguments that (1) the grounds for modification were established as a matter of law so that the lack of a jury was a harmless error and (2) the trustee lacks standing as the trustee was not a beneficiary of the trust. The court then held that the probate court abused its discretion in denying the trustee’s demand for a jury trial and reversed. Accordingly, the court did not determine whether the probate court’s modifications were proper under Trust Code § 112.054.

 

Moral:  Jury trials are available to ascertain disputed facts in a trust modification action.

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