Vickery v. Gordon: No sanctions against will contestants
In Vickery v. Gordon, the Houston 14th Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court's denial of sanctions sought by the proponent of a will against the contestants. In this case, the adult children of the decedent contested a will he made in the last year of his life. This will left a significant portion of his estate to his fiancee whom he had dated for about a year and a half. The contestants eventually dismissed their contest, apparently largely based on photographs and love letters that seemed to substantiate a legitimate, caring relationship between the decedent and the proponent. After the dismissal, the proponent sough sanctions, claiming the contestants and their lawyers failed to properly investigate their claims and brought the contest for harrassment purposes. The trial court rejected the effort to impose sanctions. In a very well supported opinion, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision. The opinion cited substantial evidence in support of the contest, including that:
[Proponent] was involved in concurrent relationships with two men who fell ill and died relatively close in time. The evidence further demonstrated that [Proponent] stood to benefit from both men’s final wills. The nature of these relationships, one of which was apparently hidden from the other, is probative evidence in our view that [Proponent's] actions were suspect and that she may have been influencing both men to be named in their wills.
The decision further noted the affidavit of a business partner of the Decedent which stated the business partner had witnessed the Proponent attempting to influence and control Decedent in regard to certain business dealings. The affidavit further claimed that the Decedent had contemplated ending his relationship with her because she apparently became upset that he had given money to his daughter. Based on the evidence cited in the opinion, this was the correct result in my opinion. In some instances, will proponents (and their lawyers) will use sanctions motions as strategic weapons to attempt to deter contestants. That doesn't appear to be the tactic in this case, as the motion was brought after the dismissal. Contesting a Will in Texas