How to Contest a Will in San Antonio
Case Study: Bedell Part 5
This is part five of our Bedell Case Study. In Part 4 we discussed in depth the first three arguments probate attorney Jimmy Carter presented in court. This fifth part of the series we discuss in depth the incapacities of Wade and why it was a crucial part to prove when contesting a will in San Antonio.
Bedell Will Contest Case
“And without question, one of the most exceptionally unusual wills we’ve ever had.”
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.
Disproving The Capacity of the Testator
Deborah did not prove that Wade had the requisite capacity to execute the 2005 purported will.
According to Deborah, the trial court’s denial of Robyn’s motion for an instructed verdict at the close of Deborah San Antonio trust & estate lawyer’s case-in-chief was “indicative of the court believing there was, indeed, evidence that Wade Bedell was of sound mind.” The more realistic indication, though, is that the judge was simply employing the time-honored technique of allowing the suit to progress to the end before making his decision, regardless of how he may have felt about the evidence at the close of the plaintiff’s case.
The Courts Doubt Wade’s Capacity
Although, as the judge pointed out, “there [was] no jury here to fool,” even in a jury trial, after denying a motion for judgment at the close of a plaintiff’s case, a trial court can still grant an instructed verdict at the close of all evidence, or a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict at the end of the trial, on no-evidence grounds. Olivier v. Snowden, 426 S.W.2d 545, 547-48 (Tex. 1968)(“[The defendant] filed motions for instructed verdict at the close of [the plaintiff]’s evidence and at the close of all of the evidence.”). Therefore, the judge’s choosing to hear more evidence before ruling is just as indicative, if not more so, of his doubting that Deborah and her San Antonio probate lawyer had offered sufficient evidence, but nevertheless being cautious in giving her every opportunity to cure this problem—which she did not do.
The trial court’s denial of Robyn’s motion for judgment at the close of Deborah’s case in chief did not, as Deborah insinuates, constitute a ruling that Wade had the testamentary capacity sufficient to overcome their burden in the will contest trial at the time (or times) he signed the 2005 purported will. It merely constituted a determination that the judge preferred to hear more evidence before making that final determination. And when he finally did, he ruled that Wade did not have testamentary capacity. As such, Robyn’s San Antonio probate lawyer Jimmy Carter and his client would prevail.
As it turned out, Robyn’s fiduciary lawyer’s motion for instructed verdict was a wake-up call for Deborah to put on evidence that she had not offered earlier to try to prove the necessary elements of her case. But even that evidence was not enough.
Regardless, even assuming hypothetically that Deborah’s evidence exceeded a scintilla so as to clear the no-evidence hurdle, the trial judge, as the exclusive factfinder, was entitled to weigh this evidence and find it to be factually insufficient to support Deborah’s claims. See Texas Workers’ Comp. Com’n v. Garcia, 893 S.W.2d 504, 536 (Tex. 1995) (holding that the factfinder’s “central function” [as here, in a trust & estate case] is to weigh and evaluate testimony).
Flawed Testimonies Regarding Wade’s Sanity
Although Brown testified that Wade was “a very sharp older man,” Brown was unable to reconcile how a supposedly “very sharp” person like Wade would not have had an attorney draft the 2005 document as he had done with his 2003 will. This testimony did not, as Deborah asserts, constitute “uncontroverted testimony to [Wade]’s testamentary capacity.” Brown’s testimony was controverted not only by the contradictory testimony of other witnesses—including Deborah—but by the 2005 document itself, which contained unexplained “nonsensical” insertions.
Cervantes, who had been involved in real estate transactions with Wade, recalled that “he was a smart, very smart, man.”
“And in your dealings with Mr. Bedell,” Robyn’s San Antonio probate attorney Jimmy Carter asked, “did he typically involve a professional, like lawyers?”
“Yes,” said Cervantes, “he did, yes.”
“[D]o you have any knowledge of why he would have used an attorney for the 2003 will, and then not gone to an attorney for the 2005 will?” Robyn’s San Antonio trust & estate lawyer asked Brown.”
“No,” he admitted, “I don’t.”
Neither did Deborah, who conceded that Wade “would have never written a will without talking it over with [his lawyer] first.”
“If that’s the case,” asked Robyn’s fiduciary lawyer Jimmy Carter, “why didn’t the lawyers prepare the will as they had done before?”
“I have no idea about that,” said Deborah.
According to Deborah, “[Robyn]’s own witness, Joe Cervantes stated that even after 2005 he thought that Mr. Bedell knew what he was doing and seemed normal to him.” But that observation was contradicted by Deborah’s own witness—herself—who told Cervantes that Wade was “old [and] doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Deborah also testified that Wade’s mental state came and went at different times. Therefore, the time “after 2005” when Deborah claims Cervantes said Wade seemed normal, does not demonstrate that Wade knew what he was doing when he signed the 2005 document, which Cervantes did not vouch for—just the opposite: he testified that he did not witness it.
“From time to time [Wade] would retreat,” Deborah recalled to the estate lawyers and trial court during the will contest. “But he would always come back.”
She remembered 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.”
Based on this testimony, as well as the bizarre circumstances surrounding the creation of the 2005 purported will, the trial court was entitled to believe that Wade had “snapped” but had not, as Deborah asserted, “snapped back” at the time or times he signed this document. See Kehoe v. Clouse, No. 04-14-00151-CV, 2015 WL 1393535, at *4 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Mar. 25, 2015, no. pet. h.) (mem. op.) (holding that “the trier of fact is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to give their testimony”).
Furthermore, even if Wade had drifted back into a mentally capable capacity at the time he signed the 2005 purported will, his physical capacity to see what he was doing was questioned during the estate litigation even by the only witness who claimed to have seen him sign this document.
“I know it’s occurred to all of you,” the judge said, “that he didn’t have a complete capacity, at least couldn’t see. … And he’s got almost nonsensical things in it.”
Under these circumstances, the trial court was entitled to determine that these “nonsensical things” were the result of Wade’s mental or physical incapacity or both.
Will Contest Case Study: Bedell Part 6