Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, May 26, 2008

Kenedy Ranch Update


John G. Kenedy, Jr. [one n] was the heir to an enormous ranch deep in South Texas.  John died in 1948.  His will left all of his "property of every character and [description] both personal and mixed" to his wife.  An argument was made that the will did not dispose of John's real property and thus the real property would pass by intestacy.  After notice to John's wife and sister, the court rendered a judgment in 1949 that the will was effective to devise John's real property to his wife after finding that all of John's heirs were represented.  No attorney ad litem was appointed to represent unknown heirs, especially since everyone believed John was sterile as a side-effect of having the mumps as a child.

Several years ago, Ray was visiting with his grandmother.  Just before she died, she remarked that he looked like John, his "grandfather."  Ray then started an investigation and set up a website to see if it was possible that his mother, Ann, was actually John's non-marital child and sole heir to the Kenedy fortune valued at up to $1 billion.

Of course, to gain any portion of the estate, Ann must set aside the 1949 judgment that Ray's will was effective to devise the real property to his wife.  So, on May 13, 2003, she filed a petition for an equitable bill of review.  She claimed that she was a necessary party to that action and thus the court's holding was not binding on her. 

Attorneys for the charities which now control most of the property traceable to John's estate claim that the estate was closed decades ago and it is irrelevant whether Ann is or is not John's child.

On the other hand, Ann claims that she has a right to prove her paternity and then seek whatever portion of the estate to which she may be entitled.

To get the necessary evidence to prove paternity, the probate court order the exhumation of John's remains.  However, that order was stayed by the Supreme Court of Texas and then abated until various lower court actions are resolved.

In Fernandez v. Frost Nat'l Bank decided May 22, 2008 by the Thirteenth Texas Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi-Edinburg, the court reversed a lower court judgment which had blocked Ann's lawsuit based heavily on complicated Texas jurisdictional rules.  The bottom line is that the case may continue so that a probate court will have the chance resolve the issue as to whether Ann has an interest in the estate.

For additional discussion of this case, see AP, Fight for South Texas fortune renewed with , MySA.com, May 25, 2008.


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Gerry--thanks, as usual, for this. Wow--setting aside (or reopening) a judgment from 1949?! That's unusual; in fact, isn't it almost unheard of?

Posted by: Alfred | May 26, 2008 1:26:43 PM

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