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In re Estate of Fells

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

November 21, 2019

IN THE ESTATE OF DONNA FELLS

          Submitted on July 1, 2019

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 Jefferson County, Texas Trial Cause No. 109304

          Before McKeithen, C.J., Horton and Johnson, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HOLLIS HORTON JUSTICE.

         This appeal arises from a dispute involving the administration of an estate. In her brief, Margy Rand, the independent executor of the Estate of Donna Fells, raises two issues that complain about the trial court's November 2017 order releasing funds trapped in the registry of the court. The funds came from the proceeds of a sale of real property, which was owned in common by the Estate, Daniel Fells, Jr., and Daniel's wife.

         In her first issue, Rand argues the trial court no longer possessed plenary power over the funds when the court distributed them to Daniel. In issue two, Rand argues the trial court's order distributing the funds is void because the funds in the court's registry belonged to the Estate. We affirm.

         Background

         Donna Fells died in 2013. After Donna died, Daniel, Donna's stepson, sued Rand in her capacity as the executor of Donna's estate and asked the trial court to partition a parcel of real property that he and his wife owned in common with the Estate.[1] Daniel also sued Rand to collect what he claimed represented his share of the rents the Estate collected from tenants who were renting a building on the property. Finally, Daniel sued the Estate for the taxes he paid on the property, which he claimed should have been paid by the Estate.

         Following a bench trial in May 2016, the trial court resolved the parties' claims. The judgment the court issued following the trial includes language of finality. No one appealed from the trial court's October 2016 final judgment.

         In the judgment, the trial court found the property the parties owned in common could not be divided and ordered the property sold. The judgment also gave Daniel relief on some of his other claims. Daniel was awarded $52, 200[2] for his share of the rents the court found the Estate owed him. The judgment also awards Daniel $2, 078, the amount Daniel claimed he paid in taxes on behalf of the Estate.

         The judgment set out how any money resulting from the future, court-ordered sale would be divided. The judgment provides:

[T]he net proceeds from the sale shall be divided as follows: First, [Daniel] shall receive 75% of the net proceeds; Second, the remaining 25% of the net proceeds, allocated as [the Estate's] share, shall be deposited into the registry of the court for further distribution by the Court.

         As relevant to the issues in this appeal, the judgment provides that Daniel would be paid first from the proceeds of the future, court-ordered sale. It did so, as follows:

If the sale proceeds are not sufficient to pay these items, it is further ORDERED that [Daniel] have judgment against the [Estate] . . . for the balance due [Daniel].

         About a year after the trial court ordered the property to be sold, the sale occurred. The proceeds from the sale, less expenses, were $87, 850. As directed by the judgment, the title company handling the sale deposited the Estate's share of the proceeds, $21, 851, into the registry of the court. Within a month, Rand moved to release the funds. Daniel objected, arguing that based on the judgment, he was entitled to be paid first from the funds.

         In November 2017, the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the Estate's motion. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court issued an order denying the motion. In the same order, the court disbursed $21, 851 (the Estate's share of the funds trapped from the court-ordered sale) to Daniel. The Estate appealed from the order ...


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