This Week In Trust Appeals

Case: In the Estate of Helen D. Wallace, Deceased
Court: Tenth Court of Appeals, Waco
The Tenth Court of Appeals this week has decided a case involving the jurisdiction of the Probate Court to hear a matter involving the interpretation of a will that possibly contains a trust.

Theresa Isenberger and Mary Moriset appealed the dismissal of their petition for construction of the will of Helen Wallace, their sister. This will was offered and admitted to probate in the County Court at Law of Johnson County, Texas. Upon their filing of the Will construction suit, the Independent Executor of the Will, Robert Semple, filed a plea to the jurisdiction claiming that the County Court at Law did not have jurisdiction because the suit related to a trust, over which the District Court has exclusive jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeals noted that section 5(c) of the Texas Probate Code (since repealed) gave the County Court at Law original probate jurisdiction over this matter. The reason being that Section 5(c) gave courts power to hear “all matters incident to an estate.” Isenberger and Moriset held that their action was a Will construction suit, therefore incident to an estate.

However the Independent Executor disagreed, citing the phrase in 5(c) of “unless otherwise provided by law.” He contended that because the property code grants the District Court exclusive jurisdiction to hear all proceedings concerning trusts, that this matter was to be heard in District Court.

The Court of Appeals disagreed however. They held that a power of appointment and a trust are not the same. Since the Will of Helen Wallace was questioned to create either a power of appointment or a trust, the Court found that it was erroneous for the trial court to grant the plea to the jurisdiction with no determination of whether the bequest was a valid power of appointment or something else, including a trust, or whether the bequest failed entirely. They noted that the District Court would have jurisdiction only if and when the County Court at Law determines that a trust was created.

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