An appeals court in Fort Worth recently issued an opinion that addressed two issues that frequently arise in probate estate litigation, namely, the right of a beneficiary to pre-suit discovery, and whether a beneficiary is prevented from challenging a will after he has already accepted benefits from an estate. The Court’s opinion in Re Meeker affirmed an estate beneficiary’s right to pre-suit discovery under Rule 202 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. That rule gives certain individuals an opportunity to take discovery from other parties before they file a lawsuit in order to determine the validity of any claims. The Court also ruled that the beneficiary could challenge a will even after he began accepting benefits from an estate.
In a probate court proceeding that the executor had challenged in this case, the son of the individual who had executed the will sought to take pre-suit discovery to determine if his father had sufficient capacity to execute the will. He also challenged his father’s will even though he had already received a share of his father’s estate. The Appeals Court agreed with the son’s argument that he had a right to challenge the estate because his position did not conflict with any of the benefits he had already received. The Court specifically noted that if the son’s challenge was accepted, he would receive the same or a greater portion of the estate than he had already received.
This decision is not the final word on an estate beneficiary’s right to challenge a will after he has already accepted benefits from it, and the Texas Supreme Court may have the final word on this matter within the next few years. At this time, however, the import of this opinion is that at least in Texas, an estate beneficiary does not need to wait until his challenge to a will is adjudicated before he accepts benefits from an estate.
Challenges to an estate and probate litigation are often fraught with emotion and inter-family disputes. Nonetheless, estates should be distributed fairly and equitably among all potential beneficiaries. Please contact us if you have questions about your rights to benefits under an estate or if you have any questions regarding probate litigation or will challenges. The attorneys at Ford + Bergner LLP concentrate their practice on estate administration and litigation. We can help you and your family to resolve the most contentious estate disputes with a minimum of recriminations and emotions among estate beneficiaries.