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In re Estate of Minton

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

January 30, 2014


On appeal from the Probate Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Longoria



This appeal arises out of the probate court's declaratory judgment ordering that the funds in the accounts of the deceased Ralph Lee Minton (Minton) are the property of his estate. By seven issues, appellant, Artemio E. Garza (Garza), appeals the judgment in favor of appellees, Randall Lee Minton, individually and as Independent Administrator of the Estate of Ralph Lee Minton, Glenda Marcelle Todd, Beverly Regina Alford, and Wanda Lynn Smith (Beneficiaries). Garza argues that the trial court erred in its judgment and denial of his motion for new trial because: (1) the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the jury's finding that Ralph Lee Minton lacked legal capacity to enter into contracts with First National Bank designating Garza as the beneficiary of his accounts; (2) the trial court reversibly erred by admitting evidence that was irrelevant, cumulative, and contained hearsay; (3) the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction; (4) a declaratory judgment was not an available remedy under the circumstances; (5) Beneficiaries failed to request a jury question or provide evidence regarding whether Minton disaffirmed the contracts; (6) Beneficiaries failed to plead rescission; and (7) Beneficiaries failed to provide evidence that they lacked an adequate remedy at law. We affirm.

I. Background

A. Procedural History

On December 2, 2010, Minton passed away, intestate, leaving a checking account and four Certificates of Deposit (C.D. (s)) totaling $432, 968.73 at First National Bank (First National). On March 25, prior to his death, Minton entered into payable on death (P.O.D.) contracts with First National. The P.O.D. contracts designated Garza, a retired law enforcement officer who had been friends with Minton since February 2007, as the beneficiary of his account and three of his C.D.s at First National.[1] On December 10, 2010, the estate filed an "Application for Independent Administration and Application to Determine Heirship" concerning the account and C.D.s at First National. On December 16, 2010, Garza, relying on the P.O.D. designations, retrieved the funds from the bank account and C.D.s at First National. On December 17, 2010, Beneficiaries filed an "Original Petition and Application for Temporary Restraining Order" in which they claimed that Minton lacked capacity to enter into the P.O.D. contracts because he "was of unsound mind" and "could be taken advantage of and easily manipulated." Beneficiaries also requested that First National be precluded from transferring any further estate assets to the Beneficiaries of the P.O.D. contracts and that Garza be restrained from spending any of Minton's funds.

Garza made a verified plea arguing that the Beneficiaries lacked standing because they had no justiciable interest in the claims asserted. Garza further filed a "counterclaim" that the Beneficiaries had "neither capacity nor standing to bring the present action."

On December 21, 2010, the trial court held a hearing on Beneficiaries' application for temporary injunction, and on January 12, 2011, the trial court issued a temporary injunction enjoining Garza from spending or dissipating any funds he received from Minton's accounts.[2] On August 1, 2011, the trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Garza dismissing "the issue of undue influence and all references thereto." The trial court commenced a jury trial on Beneficiaries' remaining causes of action on August 2, 2011. On August 5, 2011, Beneficiaries filed their second supplemental petition, asserting that the P.O.D. designations should be declared void because Minton lacked the requisite mental capacity to execute them and praying that the trial court declare that the funds were the property of Minton's estate.

B. Evidence at Trial

At trial, Beneficiaries provided evidence of Minton's mental incompetence from January 2010 through May 2010. The evidence indicated that Minton stayed at McAllen Nursing Center from January 23 to January 24, 2010. The nurse's notes admitted into evidence indicated that Minton was alert and able to follow directions, but also that he was uncooperative and confused during his visit. On January 26, Minton was brought back to the McAllen Nursing Center in an ambulance.

A few days later, Minton was sent to Legends Transitional Nursing Home (Legends). The nursing home's records indicated that Minton was alert, but forgetful and demanding. An "Elopement Risk Assessment, " signed by the attending physician, indicated that Minton was cognitively impaired with poor decision making skills, and his "Fall Risk Assessment" indicated that he had "intermittent confusion." The nurse's notes stated that Minton complained that he was having a heart attack and that he would know because he claimed he was a heart surgeon.

On January 28, 2010, Minton was sent from Legends to McAllen Heart Hospital. Heart Hospital's admitting diagnosis stated that Minton had senility. The hospital's records stated that a psychiatric evaluation was performed by a doctor on February 3, 2010 which concluded, "At this time, the patient is capable to make decision [sic] regarding his health. He might have poor judgment and wanted to go home without proper assistance." Sue Cook, case manager for McAllen Heart Hospital, testified that she had contact with Minton around January or February 2010. She testified that Minton was sick but refused nursing assistance.

Minton was admitted to McAllen Nursing Home on February 5, 2010. The admission notes indicated that Minton was alert but forgetful and confused. According to the nurse's notes, Minton was discharged on his own request from the nursing home the next day, after being instructed on the risks of leaving.

In early February, Adult Protective Services (APS) was contacted with concerns about Minton. Margot Barriero, a specialist for APS, testified at trial that she investigated charges that Minton's friend had exploited Minton and that Minton had neglected to care for himself. APS found that the exploitation charges were unfounded. Barriero testified that, during her home visit, Minton behaved irrationally and did not have good judgment, but was capable of making some of his own decisions. She testified that he was verbally abusive towards her and called the police to have her removed. She testified that although he could not leave his bed, Minton did not want nursing care and wished to stay by himself. She stated that she closed Minton's case because he obtained twenty-four hour nursing care. Additionally, Bernabe Balli testified that he assisted Minton by running errands for him. He testified that on February 6, 2010, he called the police because he did not believe Minton should be left alone.

John Tisdale, Minton's long-time friend, testified that in January 2010, Minton had problems thinking and making decisions, was easily agitated, and would not allow health care workers to assist him. He testified that he often had employees run errands for Minton, but that it was difficult to find help because Minton was rude to anyone who helped him. Tisdale testified that Minton was bed-ridden and would stay for hours in his own feces and urine, but would refuse to be cleaned and would request that the police be called to have his healthcare workers removed. Tisdale testified that he informed Minton that he was not thinking right and needed help. Tisdale concluded that Minton lost his mental capacity in January 2010 when Minton filed a restraining order against him.

Randall Lee Minton, Minton's son and the independent administrator of his estate, agreed that his father could be abusive and stated that he had not spoken with his father since 2007. He admitted that Garza had more knowledge of Minton's mental state than he did. Additionally, Beverly Minton Alford, Minton's daughter, testified that she had stayed with Minton from February 20, 2010 through March 8, 2010, that their family had a history of mental illness, that she witnessed Minton strike a medical provider, and that Minton would become angry and yell obscenities. She further testified that Minton made decisions that made no sense, and that she had to trick Minton into signing a check to pay for his home health care, which she testified that he never would have signed had he been mentally competent because he had always been very meticulous with his finances. She stated that, earlier in his life, Minton was always up to date with all of his accounts and C.D.s and that he once became angry at a bank employee because a date was missing on a financial document.

Paul Lopez, a caretaker for Minton's healthcare provider, testified that he cared for Minton from February 22, 2010 to March 10, 2010. He stated that Minton was a horrible man, that he was paranoid and would see and speak to people who were not in the room, and that he would request food items that he saw on television and drink curdled milk that was far past its expiration date. Lopez testified that Minton once punched him and broke his glasses. He stated that on March 3, Minton told him he wanted to go for a drive in Minton's car that was parked outside even though Minton no longer owned a car. He further testified that Minton refused to take care of his personal hygiene, and that Minton would often have his hands in his pants and get urine and feces under his fingernails.

Beneficiaries presented evidence that on March 26, 2010, the day after Minton signed the P.O.D. contracts, he was admitted to the emergency room at McAllen Heart Hospital. The hospital admission documents stated that Minton was unable to sign the documents, and therefore Lopez had to sign the documents as a witness. ...

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