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Will Contest Case Study: Bedell Part 3

San Antonio Estate Planning Attorney Case Result
Case Study: Bedell Part 3

This is part three of our Bedell Case Study. In Part 2 we showed the majority of arguments brought up by San Antonio estate planning attorney Jimmy Carter in this will contest case. Today we will discuss the rest of the arguments and the case ruling.

Bedell Will Contest Case

“And without question, one of the most exceptionally unusual wills we’ve ever had.”
—Trial Judge

At issue in this particular will contest, San Antonio fiduciary litigation attorney Jimmy Carter established during trial that Appellant did not meet her burden to prove that the July 7, 2005 document was qualified to be admitted to probate as a will that revoked an earlier June 17, 2003 will. This article contains excerpts from publicly available briefs filed with the Fourth Court of Appeals by appellate attorneys, Rob Ramsey and Jimmy Carter. The Court of Appeals affirmed the will contest trial court’s judgment successfully handled to final judgment by San Antonio estate lawyer Jimmy Carter.

View Final Court Opinion

The Grantor’s Incapacities

Langley & Banack lawyer James Carter also argued that Mr. Bedell’s mental capacity was questionable during 2005.

In addition to the number of witnesses and signatures, Wade’s capacity to execute the 2005 document was disputed.

“From time to time [he] would retreat,” Deborah responded to the challenge to Wade’s mental capacity. “But he would always come back.”

She recalled that during one of these “retreats,” to a facility “where the holder of his medical power of attorney had put him,” she “visited him every day” and “thought he was doing bad,” but one day he phoned her to “gas up the car and come and get me.”

“And that was [Wade],” she said. “He would snap from one time to the next like that.”

But the trial court was not convinced that Wade had “snapped back” sufficiently to have the necessary testamentary capacity—mental or physical—to execute the 2005 document.

“I know it’s occurred to all of you,” the judge said, “that he didn’t have complete capacity, at least couldn’t see. … And he’s got almost nonsensical things in it.”

The Will Contest Case Ruling

After all of the arguments were heard, the judge sided with James Carter, a Langley & Banack lawyer, that the stepmother did not meet the burden of proof needed to contest the will.

“The document itself has just got too many internal problems,” the judge concluded. “Not to mention Mr. Cervantes saying it just wasn’t there.”

After considering all of these problems, as well as the other evidence and arguments of the probate attorneys, the trial court denied Deborah’s request to probate the 2005 document as a will, thereby prompting this appeal.

Summary of Argument

Unlike the 2005 purported will, the 2003 will was prepared by a probate attorney and had all of the requisites of a valid will, with none of the inconsistencies and suspicious circumstances that surrounded the 2005 document. Nevertheless, Deborah asked the trial court to probate this 2005 instrument.

“I think [it] has too many problems,” said the trial judge, “it just has too many problems.”

The first problem was that the opposing probate counsel neither offered nor admitted into evidence the 2005 purported will during the fiduciary litigation trial. The next problem was that one of the persons whose name appeared on this purported will as a witness testified that he did not witness the signing of this document at all. And the notary, on whose signature Deborah relied as a fallback second witness, did not testify in support of the assertion that she had been a witness rather than a notary.

Whereas one of the alleged witnesses testified that he did not sign the document at all, Wade’s signature appears thereon twice. Obfuscating matters further, there are numerous interlineations on this document, including the claimed date of its execution. Not only are several of these interlineations indecipherable or “nonsensical,” the only person who claimed to have witnessed the will testified that he not read it, and therefore could not say which interlineations, if any, were made before the claimed date of execution and which were made later.

That witness also had no independent recollection of the date he signed this document, a date that became even more important in view of Deborah’s own testimony that Wade’s mental capacity “snapped” back and forth, depending on the date.

The lack of a standard residuary clause devising the remainder of any property not specifically in the 2005 document also presented the problem of whether this purported will disposed of all the testator’s property. One item of property mentioned in the trial testimony, but not in the 2005 document, was a series of notes payable to Wade. Therefore, at a minimum, this presented a fact question for the trial court as the sole factfinder, to resolve.

“I hope you guys are going to explain this to me,” the judge said.
But neither Deborah’s explanation, nor the explanation offered by her probate attorney, was satisfactory.

Will Contest Case Study: Bedell Part 4

Next week we will continue this Bedell will contest case and go more into depth of the first two arguments and why they are important when contesting a will.

 

James Carter | Will Contest Lawyer San Antonio

James W. Carter

Author
James Carter practices law in the areas of probate, trust, and real estate litigation at Langley & Banack’s San Antonio location. Mr. Carter is known as a strong fiduciary litigation attorney with expertise and a proven track record in trying complex will contest cases. The San Antonio Business Journal presented Mr. Carter the Outstanding Lawyer Award in 2016, and he is also AV-rated “Preeminent” by Martindale-Hubbell. Mr. Carter is a frequent speaker and author on matters involving Texas probate, estate, and trust litigation.

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