Estate Litigation: Yet Another Reason You Need a Will

At Ford + Bergner LLP, we stand ready to help you through the most difficult contested probate matters, but we sometimes like to step back and remind you some controversies can be avoided through simple planning.

A decision last month from the 5th District appeals court illustrates the point.

Melvin Don Jones died in 2013 at the age of 66, a resident of Dallas County. He had never married and he had no children. His parents were dead. He had no will.

Two of the decedent’s siblings petitioned the court to determine that they and a third, half-sibling were his only heirs. The court appointed an attorney ad litem to represent possible unknown heirs. She reported that the decedent also had two more sisters, another brother, and a half-sister. All of these had died, but three of them had children who were still living.

The court heard testimony from one of the petitioners, the widower of one of the deceased sisters, and a longtime neighbor of the decedent, and entered judgment determining the heirs who should inherit the decedent’s estate.

It was only at this point that the widower of yet another individual said to be related in some way to the decedent stepped forward. He did not ask the trial court to reopen the case, but instead filed an appeal to the 5th District appeals court.

The appeals court determined the appellant had no standing to appeal the trial court’s judgment, as he had offered no evidence to indicate his deceased wife was related to the decedent.

The case is In the Matter of the Estate of Melvin Don Jones, decided March 18, 2016.

The point we want to make here is that this entire situation could have been avoided had the decedent left a will indicating who should receive his property after his death.

If you find yourself in a dispute concerning a decedent’s estate, or if you would like to talk about proper planning to prevent disputes from arising, please contact us.