I have written previously that legal heirs and beneficiaries should pay close attention to mineral interests possibly owned by the decedent. With modern drilling technologies, previously dormant areas have become hot beds of drilling activity. A prime example is the Eagle Ford Shale formation in South Texas, streching from Webb to Karnes to Leon counties.
Several will contests and trust disputes I'ver handled involved oil and gas interests throughout Texas. What was previously a relatively modest estate can become quite large if the interest is in one of the modern drilling hot beds, such as the Eagle Ford Shale, the Barnett Shale, or the Haynesville Shale in East Texas. I've also seen reports of renewed activity in the Permian Basin.
In Estate of Rothrock, the Tyler Court of Appeals considered the efforts of a son to probate his father's will 14 years after his father died. The son, named as the executor, did not offer the will for probate earlier because he believed his father did not own significant property. Instead, the son entered into an agreement with his siblings to split the property and he only received two cameras owned by his father.
In 2008, the son was notified by an oil and gas landman that his father owned mineral interests in Cherokee County, Texas. At that point, he decided to offer the will for probate to obtain a share of the mineral royalties. Unfortunately for son, Section 73(a) of the Texas Probate Code provides that a will cannot be offered for probate more than four years after the testator's death, unless the proponent can demonstrate he was not in default for the untimely filing. In this case, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that the son had not provided a sufficient legal excuse for failing to probate the will. It was clear that the son knew about the will and had a copy, he just didn't believe there were enough assets to justify probating the will and instead opted to sign the agreement wherein he received the two cameras. Bad move in retrospect.
The decision notes that evaluating the default issue depends on the particular facts and circumstances. In a different circumstance, the court may have allowed the will to be probated.