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In re Ignacio G. and Myra A. Gonzales Revocable Living Trust

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

June 6, 2019

IN RE IGNACIO G. AND MYRA A. GONZALES REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST

          Date Submitted: May 23, 2019

          On Appeal from the Probate Court No. 1 Travis County, Texas Trial Court No. C-1-PB-16-002121

          Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.

          OPINION

          RALPH K. BURGESS JUSTICE

         Ignacio G. Gonzales married Myra A. Gonzales and adopted Myra's natural child, Edna Jean Burgess, in 1965. Ignacio and Myra had two children together, Ignacio G. Gonzales, Jr. (Ignacio, Jr.), and Esperanza Gonzales. In 2004, Ignacio and Myra created the Ignacio G. and Myra A. Gonzales Revocable Living Trust (the Trust) and named Esperanza as trustee. After Ignacio's and Myra's deaths in December 2015, Esperanza filed a petition for declaratory judgment in Travis County probate court to determine whether Edna was a beneficiary of the Trust under its terms.[1] The trial court granted Esperanza and Ignacio, Jr.'s summary judgment, corrected alleged scrivener's errors in the Trust document, and declared that Edna was not a beneficiary under the Trust's terms. Edna appeals.

         We agree with Edna that genuine issues of material fact precluded the trial court's entry of summary judgment. Accordingly, we reverse the summary judgment and remand the matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The Trust terms did not mention Edna by name. A document titled "Summary of Basic Trust Information" (Summary) stated that the only "Beneficiaries" were Esperanza and Ignacio, Jr., and that they were the "children" for purposes of the Trust document. The Summary also specified that they would each receive a fifty percent distribution of the Trust assets. After the declaration of trust, the first Trust article, labelled "Identification," read, "The Grantors have two children, their daughter, ESPERANZA GONZALES and son IGNACIO G. GONZALES, JR. All references in this Declaration of Trust to the 'Grantors' children' are to them." In spite of this article, it is undisputed that Edna was Myra's natural child, who was adopted by Ignacio.[2] The Trust never used the phrase "Grantors' children" after this "Identification" article. Instead, in discussing the distribution of Trust assets, the document used the term "descendants." As a result, Ignacio, Jr., and Esperanza claimed that the Trust contained scrivener's errors.

         To understand the arguments related to the alleged scrivener's errors, we review the relevant portions of the Trust document. The Trust established a surviving grantor's trust on the death of the first grantor and contained the following provision for its termination:

Termination. Nine months after the death of the surviving Grantor, the trust created by this Article shall terminate. Upon such termination, all of the remaining trust property shall be distributed to the Grantors' [ ]. If none of the Grantors' descendants survives the surviving Grantor, one-half of the property of the trust created by this Article shall be distributed to the Husband's heirs and the other half of the property of the trust created by this Article shall be distributed to the Wife's heirs.

(Emphasis added). As trustee, Esperanza initially asked the trial court to correct the scrivener's error in the italicized sentence by including the word "descendants" after "Grantors." She then asked the probate court to determine whether Edna was a beneficiary under the Trust. The record contains no pleading showing that Esperanza asked the trial court to fill in the blank with the term "children."

         The Trust document also provided that the trustee was to hold Trust property "in a single trust for the primary benefit of the surviving Grantor" in the Gonzales Family Trust (Family Trust) instead of distributing property to the surviving spouse outright. The termination provision of the Family Trust provided:

This trust shall terminate when the surviving Grantor dies. Upon termination, all of the remaining trust property shall be distributed to the Grantors' descendants who are then living per stirpes; provided, however, if none of the Grantors' descendants is then living, one-half of such remaining principal shall be distributed to the Husband's heirs, and the other one-half of such remaining principal shall be distributed to the Wife's heirs.

         The miscellaneous provisions of the Family Trust further stated:

References to "descendant" or "descendants" mean lineal blood descendants of the first, second or any other degree of the ancestor designated; provided, however, that such references shall include, with respect to any provision of this Declaration of Trust, descendants who have been conceived at any specific point in time relevant to such provision and who thereafter survive birth; and provided, further, an adopted child and such adopted child's lineal descendants by blood or adoption shall be considered under this Declaration of Trust as lineal blood descendants of the adopting parent or parents and of anyone who is by blood or adoption a lineal ancestor of the adopting parent or of either of the adopting parents.

         In her answer, Edna claimed she was a beneficiary under the trust because the language of the Family Trust distributed assets to Ignacio's and Myra's "descendants," not "children." Citing to this language, she also argued that the scrivener's error in the termination provision of the surviving grantor's trust should have been filled with the term "descendants," since the next sentence clarified what would occur "if none of the Grantors' descendants survive[d] the surviving Grantor."

         Ignacio, Jr., separately petitioned the probate court to declare that Edna was not a beneficiary under the Trust. He argued that the Summary of the Trust indicated that distributions should only be made to Esperanza and him and that the use of the term "descendants" in the other portions of the Trust document created an ambiguity as to Ignacio's and Myra's intent. Ignacio, Jr., did not ask the trial court to fill in the blank space in the termination provision of the surviving grantor's trust with the term "children."

         Ignacio, Jr., and Esperanza, in her individual capacity, filed a traditional motion for summary judgment.[3] They argued that the ambiguity created by the Trust terms should be resolved in their favor because parol evidence from Gary J. Derer, who drafted the Trust, showed ...


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