Appeal from the Probate Court No. 2 Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 437, 892
consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Busby and Wise.
proceeding to determine heirship, the sole issue is whether
the evidence is factually sufficient to support the trial
court's judgment that appellant was not informally
married to the deceased and therefore not the deceased's
legal heir. We affirm.
E. Brown died on February 25, 2015, at the age of 61, from
pancreatic cancer. Before his death, Brown lived with
appellant Nicole Renaud and her two children. Brown left a
will dated November 25, 2014, naming Renaud as his
independent executrix. Brown's will was admitted to
probate in the trial court on March 17, 2015.
the will, Brown referred to Renaud as his "dearest
friend" and noted that they had lived together for over
ten years. Brown expressed his desire to "take care of
her and her children" and stated that he had raised
Renaud's children as his own. Brown left Renaud "our
home" and most of his assets, except for thirty-five
percent of a life insurance policy, which he bequeathed to
his sister, Renee Greenfield. Any property not specifically
disposed of under the will was to be distributed to
Brown's heirs-at-law. Elsewhere in the will, Brown stated
that "my spouse and I are executing wills at
approximately the same time, " but he did not identify
the "spouse" by name.
following year, Renaud filed an application to determine
heirship in the trial court, alleging that at the time of
Brown's death, she and Brown had a common law marriage.
Renaud alleged that on December 17, 2013, she and Brown
agreed to be married in a public ceremony, they lived
together in Texas as husband and wife, and held themselves
out to others as husband and wife. Renaud also requested that
the trial court appoint an attorney ad litem to represent
Brown's unknown heirs. The trial court appointed Jennifer
Zenero as the attorney ad litem.
filed a report detailing the results of her investigation to
determine the existence of any unknown heirs and to verify
the information provided in Renaud's application. Zenero
located and interviewed Brown's relatives, and also
interviewed several disinterested witnesses concerning their
understanding of Renaud's and Brown's relationship.
Zenero opined that if the trial court found that a common law
marriage existed between Brown and Renaud, then Renaud would
be Brown's sole heir. If the trial court found that there
was no common law marriage between Brown and Renaud, however,
Brown's heirs would be his sister, Martha Renee
Greenfield, and the three children of Brown's deceased
brother, Gary Brown.
amended report, Zenero described interviewing a neighbor of
Brown's and two other acquaintances who stated that Brown
and Renaud either introduced or referred to themselves as
husband and wife. The witnesses were unaware of any marriages
of Brown other than to Renaud. None of the witnesses
mentioned attending the ceremony Renaud maintained occurred
further investigation, Zenero found Brown's obituary
published in the Valley Morning Star, which referred to him
as a "confirmed bachelor" and did not mention
Renaud or her children. Zenero also contacted Greenfield and
her husband, who provided Zenero with Brown's updated
will and other documents, which were attached to the report.
This will was dated February 23, 2015. In the 2015 will,
Brown declared that he was not married, he had never been
married, and he had no children. He appointed Greenfield as
his independent executrix and named her the primary
beneficiary of his estate. The 2015 will did not mention
Renaud or her children.
also interviewed four friends of Brown's, three of whom
were also his work colleagues. These witnesses stated that
Brown had no biological children and had never been married.
They also stated that Brown was very close to Renaud's
children and wanted to take care of them, but they were
unaware of the ceremony Renaud claimed took place in 2013.
One of the witnesses stated that it was his understanding
that Renaud had a lock on her bedroom door and that she and
Brown referred to each other as roommates. The witnesses
stated that Brown never referred to Renaud as his wife, never
represented that they were married, and never stated that he
intended for them to be married. One witness said that Brown
never changed his federal income tax filing status, which was
"single." Finally, the witnesses stated that Brown
would not allow Renaud into his hospital room, and that while
in the hospital, Brown signed a will and beneficiary
filed an amended application to determine heirship to name
Brown's relatives. Renaud maintained her allegation that
she was Brown's common law spouse on the date of his
death, and asserted that pursuant to Brown's probated
will, Renaud was the sole heir to Brown's property.
appellate record does not include a reporter's record,
but the clerk's record contains a "Post-Hearing
Memorandum" filed by Renaud. This memorandum reflects
that a hearing was held before the court on June 1, 2016, at
which several witnesses testified on Renaud's behalf. In
the memorandum, Renaud indicates that during the hearing,
references were made "on the record" to three
occasions when Brown referred to Renaud as his spouse. Renaud
also states that the matter is "fully uncontested,
" noting that Brown's relatives have not contested
the matter, an appearance of counsel has not been made for
any heir other than Renaud, and ...