Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Texas Court Finds Evidence to Establish Lack of Capacity

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-06-13/af4abf9a-9064-40f0-b169-12e6d3edd409.pngThe Houston 14th Court of Appeals reversed the Brazoria County Court's granting of of summary judgement to the defendants in the Estate of Danford, remanding the case back to that court. The appellate court found that there was sufficient evidence for a trial after the contestants of Annie Ruth Danford's 2010 will showed that she may have lacked the testamentary capacity to execute the will.

The contestant's nephews, Ervin Hunold, Jr., Michael Hunold, Steven Hunold, and Travis Hunold opposed when the sole beneficiary and executor of the will, Robert J. Stawarczik applied to probate the will of Danford's. The Hunolds claimed lack of capacity and undue influence as Danford and Stawarczik had a fudiciary relationship because Stawarczik was also Danford's power of attorney. The court found numerous examples of the possibility that Annie Ruth may have lacked the capacity to execute the 2010 will, including:

  • Neither of the witnesses could confirm the witnesses knew she was signing a will; no one read the will aloud or otherwise indicated that everyone was there to witness a will signing
  • A person who knew the testator stated in an affidavit that she began experiencing “confusion and exhibiting extremely unusual behavior” as early as two years before she signed the will
  • The testator kept “large amounts of stray animals, over 60-70 raccoons, a peacock, cats and other stray animals” at her home.
  • The testator frequently called 911 “at all hours of the day and night, distraught and confused.”
  • The testator had allegedly denied to a witness later that she had signed a new will.

See Court Finds Evidence to Establish Lack of Capacity, Texas Probate Litigation, June 9, 2018; see also Estate of Danford, NO. 14-16-00972-CV, May 1, 2018.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.) for bringing this article to my attention.


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