Mineral Interests for the Children

A woman from Georgia called estate litigation attorney J. Michael Young. She and her brother had been disinherited by their mother, in favor of her husband of a few years. She told attorney Young that three other lawyers had turned down her case. But she believed the will was executed under suspicious circumstances and she doubted her mother had sufficient mental capacity. She understood her mother leaving her step father the house and some financial assets. But there had been Barnett Shale mineral interests in the family for years and her mother had said those would go to her and her brother.

Attorney Young agreed to investigate the circumstances. He obtained information from friends of the decedent that supported a will contest. Attorney Young filed a will contest petition in Tarrant County Probate Court. The contest noted that the mother had been suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. She had several close friends, primarily at her church. But her friends noted that she had become increasingly isolated. Her husband of only two years exercised control over her, beyond what one would have reasonably expected. Her independence in daily activities was curtailed, including her ability to see her family and friends. She confided her frustration to friends and family, but appeared to do her best to please her husband and satisfy his desire to control both her contacts and her finances.

Family and friends were shocked when they learned that she had completely disinherited her children. The circumstances of the will drafting and execution exhibited the classic signs of undue influence. The mother did not visit an attorney to discuss her estate planning needs. Instead, her husband found a form will and filled in his desired disposition of her property.

When it came to having her execute the instrument, he took no chances. The execution was in their home. He did not arrange for any of her friends, family members, co-workers or acquaintances of her to witness the signing. All three witnesses, along with the notary, were his co-workers. He deliberately calculated that they would have no particular incentive to evaluate her mental capacity or her apparent understanding of the will. After she passed away, he moved quickly to complete the isolation of her family and take control over her assets. Just after her funeral, he approached her mother to confirm his right to the gas royalties.

Attorney Young filed a detailed will contest petition setting out the claims of undue influence and a lack of testamentary capacity. Shortly thereafter, the husband’s lawyer contacted him. Attorney Young stood firm that his clients would not dismiss the contest unless they received all of the mineral interests. The husband agreed and the case was resolved to the children’s great satisfaction.