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In re Estate of Adams

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 17, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF Elaine Eisele ADAMS, Deceased

          From the 216th Judicial District Court, Gillespie County, Texas Trial Court No. 14997 Honorable N. Keith Williams, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice Irene Rios, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Irene Rios, Justice.

         Duane Allen Adams appeals the trial court's order admitting Elaine Eisele Adams's last will and testament and first codicil to her last will and testament to probate. Duane contends the trial court erred in concluding Elaine's handwritten letter to her attorney dated September 21, 2015 was not admissible to probate as a codicil because: (1) the appellees, Kara Armes and Justin Seitz, judicially admitted the letter indicated Elaine's wish to distribute her entire estate to Duane; and (2) the letter was written with testamentary intent. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         Elaine passed away on February 6, 2017. Both her husband and her daughter predeceased her. Duane is Elaine's son, and Kara and Justin are the children of Elaine's daughter.

         On May 4, 2017, Kara and Justin filed an application to probate Elaine's last will and testament dated November 28, 1994, and the first codicil to the will dated June 5, 2015. Duane filed an opposition to the application asserting the will and codicil were modified by a letter Elaine wrote to her attorney dated September 21, 2015. Kara and Justin filed a contest to the probate of the September 21, 2015 letter asserting it was not executed with testamentary intent.

         On September 22, 2017, the trial court held a hearing on the application, opposition, and contest. At the hearing, the parties stipulated the will and first codicil were admissible to probate. The parties also stipulated the September 21, 2015 letter was in Elaine's handwriting and signed by her; however, Kara and Justin continued to argue the letter was not executed with testamentary intent. The letter stated:

I received your letter today.
According to my will Sec 4:3 Either will may be revoked at any time at the sole discretion of the maker of same.
When you wrote the codicil for me making Duane the inheritor of all my possessions at the time of my death, I thought that was all that was necessary.

         After reviewing the letter, the trial court concluded it was not written with testamentary intent, reasoning:

In my book, without question, this does not have any proof of testamentary intent. There's no indication she intended this to be her will. For one thing, there's a couple of mistakes in there. She says she understood it may be revoked. She didn't say she wants to revoke a will, her will. She said, when you wrote the codicil for me making Duane the inheriter [sic] of all my possessions, clearly the codicil does not make Duane the inheriter [sic] of all her possessions. So that's a genuine mistake of understanding on her part. And under this case law, just - just, for example, very specifically in the Schiwetz case it says, instructions or directions to attorneys to prepare a new will or codicil to carry out the designated changes are not themselves intended to be wills or codicils.
So the Court finds that this letter from Ms. Adams to Mr. Sauer does not have the requisite testamentary intent and should not be - shall not be construed in any form or fashion to be a - an addendum, a codicil, or any - have any effect ...

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