When a person tells someone how he wants his property handled when he dies but he has a written will or trust, the oral statements will not change how his property is handled if the will or trust is unambiguous.

Problem

Someone testifies in a Texas will or trust contest that the testator told them how he wanted his property distributed. The will or trust of the testator specifies a different way to distribute the property. What effect do the testator’s statements have on the Texas will or trust?

Facts

In her lawsuit, Blanca alleged that when Frank decided to sell the Ranch, he told family members they would be given an opportunity to match any offer he received.

Blanca filed the underlying lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction to prevent Frank from conveying the (property based on the statements by the testator).

The court had to decide if or how this evidence should be treated.

ESTATE OF RODRIGUEZ, 04-17-00005-CV, (Tex. App. – San Antonio January 10, 2018)

Trust versus Will in Texas

Since this case dealt with a trust, the court stated the Texas’ rules for construing trusts.

The same rules of construction apply to both wills and trusts. The construction of an unambiguous trust instrument is a question of law for the trial court.

An appellate court may not focus its attention on what the testator intended to write, but on the meaning of the words he actually used.  That is, we must not redraft a trust instrument to vary or add provisions under the guise of construction of the language of the trust to reach a presumed intent. No speculation or conjecture regarding the intent of the testatrix is permissible where, as here, the will is unambiguous, and we must construe the will based on the express language used therein.

This court must harmonize all terms to give proper effect to each part of the instrument; in construing the instrument, we must give effect to all provisions and ensure that no provisions are rendered meaningless.  Provided the language of the instrument unambiguously expresses the settlor’s intent, there is no need to construe the instrument because “it speaks for itself.”

What are the rules for construing a trust in Texas?

ESTATE OF RODRIGUEZ, 04-17-00005-CV, (Tex. App. – San Antonio January 10, 2018)

Ruling

Based on the facts of the case and applying Texas law, the court found that the trust stated how the property was to be handled and that any statements by the Testator to the contrary were to be disregarded.

Notes

There are some Texas cases where a will or trust was ambiguous and statements by the Testator were used to determine what he meant. In this case, the trust was not ambiguous.

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Oral Statements by the Testator about a Texas Will

by | Jan 16, 2018 | Probate, Procedure, Property, Removal of Trustee |