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Are You an “Interested Party” After Receiving Benefits from a Will?

The distribution of assets after someone passes away can be a complex and contentious process. This is particularly true when it comes to interpreting a will.

One issue that can arise is whether someone who has already received benefits from a will is still considered an “interested party” in the estate. If they are not an interested party as they received benefits from the will, they may not be able to contest the will.

This issue is addressed in Sheffield v. Scott, 620 S.W.2d 691, 693 (Tex. App. — Houston [14th Dist.] 1981, writ ref’d n.r.e.). The case explains the potential consequences of accepting benefits under a will.

Facts and Procedural History

When Vivian Kent Vilven passed away she had no children and her husband had already died.

Her closest heirs were her nephew, Carl, and her niece, Beverly.

William Scott was her attorney and drafted her will. Her will also appointed Scott as the Independent Executor of her estate.

The decedent left the bulk of her estate to Beverly, her automobile to Carl, and a diamond ring to her attorney. The remainder of the estate would be shared between the three of them.

The will had a no-contest clause that provided that anyone who contested the will would forfeit his or her gift to the residuary estate.

After all of the gifts were distributed, Carl and Beverly filed a motion claiming all portions of the will benefiting the attorney were void and that the decedent was under undue influence.

The attorney filed a motion to dismiss the cause claiming Carl and Beverly were no interested persons.

The court dismissed their claim after an in limine hearing thereby denying Carl and Beverly a jury trial. An in-limine hearing is scheduled to take place before the merits of the main issue in dispute can be heard. It is to consider evidentiary issues or technical legal issues, which are raised by the parties before getting into the trial in the case.

Carl and Beverly filed an appeal, which was the subject of the court opinion.

The Right to a Jury Trial

Sheffield and Tipton appealed stating the trial court erred in denying them a jury trial.

They cited Section 21 of the Texas Probate Code (which is now part of the Texas Estates Code), which states in pertinent part, “In all contested probate . . . proceedings . . ., the parties shall be entitled to trial by jury as in other civil actions.” 

The court disagreed and stated that before any probate proceeding the parties must establish that they are interested persons, which is done by an in limine proceeding. An interested party is anyone who has a property right or claim against the estate being administered.

Who is an Interested Party?

The court noted that the party is not an interested person if they have accepted the benefits under the will. This rule effectively says that if a person receives the benefit under the will, that discharges their interest in the estate.

Carl and Beverly disputed that they were not interested persons. They argued that there was no evidence showing that they accepted benefits under the will with knowledge of their rights. They also argued that they had effectively returned the property they received as beneficiaries.

The appeals court had to determine if the evidence supported the trial court’s conclusion that Carl and Beverly, “ha[d] taken and accepted benefits under the terms of the will with due knowledge of their rights are not interested parties to contest the will.”

The appeals court stated, “whether appellants had knowledge of all the facts and of all their rights at the moment they accepted the benefits, is immaterial to a determination that they, by their acts and conduct after acceptance, were no longer able to contest the will.”

The court went on to find that the evidence clearly shows that Carl and Beverly had accepted benefits under the will and never returned or tendered a return of the properties accepted. The court also stated that since both Carl and Beverly had exclusive possession of their gifts, they are deemed uninterested persons. The court denied Carl and Beverly’s appeal.

The Takeaway

This case highlights the concerns that arise when accepting transfers under a will. If you have already received benefits from a will, you may no longer be considered an “interested party” in the estate. This means you may not be able to contest the will, even if you believe it was executed under undue influence or other inappropriate circumstances. It is important to think twice about accepting transfers under a will or to return them as soon as possible if you have concerns about the validity of the will. If you have questions about probate litigation, you should contact our probate attorneys.

Our Houston Probate Attorneys provide a full range of probate services to our clients, including helping with will contests. Affordable rates, fixed fees, and payment plans are available. We provide step-by-step instructions, guidance, checklists, and more for completing the probate process. We have years of combined experience we can use to support and guide you with probate and estate matters. Call us today for a FREE attorney consultation.


The content of this website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information presented may not apply to your situation and should not be acted upon without consulting a qualified probate attorney. We encourage you to seek the advice of a competent attorney with any legal questions you may have.

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