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Massey v. Inheritance Funding Co., Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

April 24, 2018


          On Appeal from the County Court at Law Number 2 Parker County, Texas Trial Court No. CIV15-0299, Honorable Curtis J. Jenkins, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.


          James T. Campbell, Justice

         Appellant Robert Earl Massey appeals the trial court's judgment awarding appellee Inheritance Funding Company, Inc. funds held in the registry of the court. We will affirm.


         Massey's father William Earl Massey died in February 2008. A will contest ensued, between the proponents of a 2004 will and Massey, the proponent of a 2002 will. A temporary administrator was appointed. At trial of the will contest and some related claims, Massey prevailed, and by an October 2009 judgment, the 2002 will was ordered admitted to probate. In February 2010, Massey qualified as independent executor and was issued letters testamentary. Except for some specific bequests not pertinent to this appeal, the 2002 will left his father's entire estate to Massey.

         In February 2009, and on three other occasions during 2009, Massey engaged in transactions with appellee Inheritance Funding Company, Inc. ("IFC"). In the February 2009 transaction, Massey assigned his "beneficial interest" in his father's estate "in the amount of and to the extent of $32, 400.00 . . . reserving to myself the remaining beneficial interest." In exchange for the assignment, IFC agreed to pay $17, 420, "less applicable fees." The fees, listed in an exhibit to the assignment, reduced the net payment to Massey to an estimated amount of $15, 072. In the assignment, IFC further agreed to refund $9100 to Massey if it received the $32, 400 within twelve months of the assignment's date, and to refund $4600 if within 24 months. The assignment contained authority for executors and other personal representatives to pay the assigned amount to IFC "prior to making any distribution to [Massey]."

         The other three assignments, executed in April, October, and November 2009, were like the first but for different amounts. In the April assignment, Massey assigned IFC his beneficial interest in the amount of $12, 700, in exchange for a payment after fees of $5036; the October assignment was in the amount of $10, 100 for a payment after fees of $5048; and the November assignment, $14, 700 for a payment after fees of $8072. These assignments, like the first, called for refunds to Massey if IFC received its agreed- upon amount within twelve or 24 months. The amount of the beneficial interests assigned on the four occasions totaled $69, 900.

         The assignment documents carried the cause number of the Parker County probate proceeding, and appended to each was a certificate of service reflecting mailing of the assignment documents to Massey and copies to the attorney then representing him and the estate's temporary administrator. The assignment documents in the record also show they were filed with the county clerk at the time of their execution.

         The record contains also a letter prepared on IFC letterhead, signed by Massey and addressed to his attorney. The letter makes reference to the four partial assignments totaling $69, 900. It states it serves as Massey's "formal irrevocable instruction and consent" for the attorney or the estate's representative to honor the assignments to IFC from distributions from the estate. The letter shows to be signed by Massey on November 2, 2009. It contains a signature line prepared for the attorney, under the caption, "Read and agreed." The signature line contains a signature, and is dated "11/4/09."

         In addition to the will contest, the estate was involved in other litigation. One case, styled Robert Earl Massey, as Independent Executor of The Estate of William Earl Massey, Deceased v. EECU, in the 43rd District Court of Parker County, generated some $738, 600 for the estate. In that litigation, Massey was represented by the Dallas firm of Friedman & Feiger, LLP.

         The record contains an August 2014 authorization, signed by Massey, individually and as independent executor, for Friedman & Feiger's disbursement of proceeds of the EECU litigation held in the firm's IOLTA account. The authorization reflects "client advances" made on various dates in 2014, totaling $197, 274.71. The authorization also contains an entry entitled "Less Holdback on Known Claims, " including the amount of $69, 900 for "claim of Inheritance Funding Company." Based on Massey's authorization, Friedman & Fieger later deposited funds totaling $116, 520.78 into the trial court's registry.

         The record provided us shows that IFC, beginning as early as 2010, undertook to force Massey to pay the amount assigned it in their transactions. The efforts included an attempt to remove him as independent executor, intervention in other litigation being conducted by the estate, presentation of a "claim" under the provisions of the probate code, and a demand for an accounting.

         By the pleadings on which the trial court rendered its judgment, IFC alleged it had requested Massey to agree to the distribution of $69, 900 of the funds held in the court's registry to IFC, but Massey refused. It alleged Massey, individually, had breached the assignment agreements and committed fraud, and that, as independent executor, Massey had breached his fiduciary duty to IFC. After mediation failed, ...

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