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In re Estate of Mahaffey

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 27, 2019

In the ESTATE OF Ava Lorene MAHAFFEY, Deceased

          From the County Court at Law, Kerr County, Texas Trial Court No. CCL16-16 Honorable Susan Harris, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REBECA C. MARTINEZ, JUSTICE

         REVERSED AND REMANDED

         This is an appeal from a trial court's order granting Michele DeBellis's traditional motion for summary judgment in a will contest. Anna Crosswhite contends the trial court erred in granting DeBellis's traditional motion for summary judgment because she raised genuine issues of material fact regarding the testamentary capacity of the deceased, Ava Mahaffey.

         Background

         Mahaffey signed a purported will and a self-proving affidavit on October 25, 2016 (the "October 25th Will"). Elizabeth Jesko, the attorney who drafted the will, and Morgan Wayne Dale witnessed the October 25th Will and self-proving affidavit. Jesko's assistant acted as notary. The October 25th Will made bequests to Mahaffey's three sisters, but excluded her fourth sister, Crosswhite. The residue of Mahaffey's estate was left to DeBillis. DeBillis was the great-niece of Mahaffey's late husband.

         Mahaffey died nine days later on November 3, 2016 of pancreatic cancer. Shortly thereafter, DeBillis applied to probate the October 25th Will, and Crosswhite contested the will on the ground that Mahaffey lacked testamentary capacity on the date the October 25th Will was executed. In the event the October 25th Will was found to be invalid, Crosswhite sought to offer for probate another will, also drafted by attorney Jesko, that Mahaffey had purportedly executed on October 6, 2016 (the "October 6th Will"). In the October 6th Will, the residue of Mahaffey's estate was left to Crosswhite. The October 6th Will did not include a bequest to DeBillis.

         DeBillis filed a traditional motion for summary judgment asserting that her summary judgment proof conclusively established Mahaffey had testamentary capacity at the time the October 25th Will was executed. The trial court granted DeBillis's traditional motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Crosswhite contends her summary judgment evidence raised genuine issues of material fact regarding Mahaffey's testamentary capacity at the time the October 25th Will was executed.

         Standard of Review

         A summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 215 (Tex. 2003). In a traditional motion for summary judgment, the movant "has the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Nixon v. Mr. Prop. Mgmt. Co., Inc., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548-49 (Tex. 1985). "If the movant produces evidence that conclusively establishes its right to summary judgment, then the burden of proof shifts to the nonmovant to present evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact." In re Estate of Danford, 550 S.W.3d 275, 281 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2018, no pet.) (citing Centeq Realty, Inc. v. Siegler, 899 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Tex. 1995)). "In deciding whether there is a disputed material fact issue precluding summary judgment, evidence favorable to the non-movant will be taken as true," and "[e]very reasonable inference must be indulged in favor of the non-movant and any doubts resolved in its favor." Nixon, 690 S.W.2d at 548-49.

         Testamentary Capacity

         "A testator must be of 'sound mind,' which means having testamentary capacity at the time the testator executes the will." In re Estate of O'Neil, No. 04-11-00586-CV, 2012 WL 3776490, at *6 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Aug. 31, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.). "The key inquiry is whether the testator had testamentary capacity on the day the will was executed[.]" In re Estate of Danford, 550 S.W.3d at 281. A testator has testamentary capacity at the time of execution if she possesses sufficient mental ability to:

(1) understand the effect of making the will and the general nature and extent of her property, (2) know the testator's next of kin and the natural objects of her bounty, and (3) have sufficient memory to assimilate the elements of executing a will, to hold those elements long enough to perceive their ...

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