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In re Estate of Abraham

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

August 21, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF JOSEPH ABRAHAM, JR. A/K/A JOSEPH (SIB) ABRAHAM, JR.

          Appeal from Probate Court No. 1 of El Paso County, Texas (TC # 2014-CPR02054)

          Before McClure, C.J., Rodriguez, and Palafox, JJ.

          OPINION

          ANN CRAWFORD MCCLURE, CHIEF JUSTICE

         The driving force for the disputants here is whether a piece of property passed from father to son before the father's death, or whether it is part of the deceased father's estate, subject to the provisions of a will and the claims of creditors. The deciding issue, however, is whether Appellant, William Abraham, has presented a sufficient record and arguments to convince us that the probate court erred in granting summary judgment invalidating a deed that purportedly transferred the property. He has not, and we affirm the judgment below.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Joseph (Sib) Abraham, Jr., a noted El Paso trial lawyer, passed away on July 4, 2014. His will appointed his wife, Margaret, as Independent Executrix. She declined that role, however, and the probate court appointed a granddaughter, Asia Zaragoza as the Dependent Administrator of the estate. Later, Ms. Zaragoza stepped down, and the court appointed Albert Bloxom as the Successor Dependent Administrator. He is our Appellee here, and we refer to him as the Administrator. In addition to his wife, Sib Abraham was also survived a son, William D. Abraham, and several grandchildren. The will lists Margaret as the sole beneficiary, with Sib's grandchildren as alternate beneficiaries. William Abraham is not a beneficiary under the will.

         This case arises out of a particular estate asset. According to an assumption deed dated June 1, 1982, Sib Abraham acquired a parcel of land located at 415 E. 7th Street, in downtown Austin. The deed showed only Sib as the buyer. Sib acquired that property, however, while he was married to Margaret, and jointly filed income tax returns, as well as an inventory filed by Ms. Zaragoza in her role as the dependent administrator, treated the Austin land as community property; no party has contested that claim. In 2011, Sib pledged the property as security for $497, 000 promissory note payable to GEM Real Estate Investments. That entity filed a claim in the probate proceeding for the outstanding balance on the note. Other creditors filed numerous claims against the estate based on various secured and secured notes.

         On November 7, 2014 (four months after Sib's death), William Abraham caused to be recorded an assumption warranty deed in Travis County that purported to transfer the 7th Street property from Sib to William. The deed reflected that Sib signed the instrument on January 7, 2013, some six months before his death. His signature was notarized by Texas notary, Jackie Brackett. That is where this story takes its first turn--Brackett later executed an affidavit stating in relevant part that she actually notarized deed after Sib's death:

• Approximately three to four months after the death of Joseph 'SIB' Abraham, Jr., William 'Billy' Abraham called me at home and asked me to meet him . . . . At that time, Billy indicated that he finally found the deed to the Austin property and that he needed me to notarize it for him.
• The deed he presented was entitled Assumption Warranty Deed, . . . [and] already had what appeared to be the signature of Joseph 'SIB' Abraham, Jr. on the second page. The signature was dated January 7, 2013.
• At that time, I realized that my notary stamp was too new for the date on the Assumption Warranty Deed. Billy asked me to retrieve my old notary stamp from my house.
• I then notarized the Assumption Warranty Deed. Once I finished notarizing the Assumption Warranty Deed, Billy indicated that he was going to Austin to personally file it as soon as possible.
• Since his incarceration, Billy has sent me other documents, including deeds, for me to notarize. I did not feel comfortable notarizing those documents and gave them back to Charlene Enriquez, who is helping Billy while he is in jail.

         William Abraham later filed a lis pendens claiming to be the true owner of the property. He filed an original petition in the probate proceeding seeking to vindicate his claim to the Austin property. That petition alleges that he bought the property around 1985 from Sib through a series of transaction. The ...


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