Probate/Estate: Estate of Wilbur Waldo Lynch
Estate of Wilbur Waldo Lynch, No. 04-09-00777-CV, 2011 Tex. App. LEXIS __ (Tex. App.—San Antonio April 20, 2011, no pet. h.)
The Fourth Court of Appeals affirmed a judgment finding that a testator did not have mental capacity to execute a will and in denying attorneys' fees to the proponent of the will.
This case involves a will dispute over a 2003 will of Wilbur Waldo Lynch. Wilbur had three daughters Peggy, Patricia, and Tracy. Wilbur died in July 2005, and Tracy filed an application to probate the 2003 will. After it was admitted to probate, Peggy and Patricia contested the will on the grounds that their father lacked testamentary capacity to execute the 2003 will and he allegedly executed it as a result of undue influence by Tracy. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Peggy and Patricia and the trial court invalidated the 2003 will. Although the jury had found that Tracy incurred over $600,000 in reasonable and necessary attorney's fees, the jury found that she did not act in good faith and with just cause in defending the 2003 will. The trial court did not allow Tracy her attorney's fees. Tracy appealed the trial court's judgment.
In answer to question number one, the jury found that Wilbur did not have testamentary capacity when he executed the 2003 will. In the answer to question number two, the jury found that at the time Wilbur executed the 2003 will, he was acting under the undue influence of Tracy. Tracy asserted that these two findings created an irreconcilable conflict because a person cannot both lack testamentary capacity and be duly influenced. She also argued that the trial court erred in admitting the evidence of Peggy's and Patricia's expert because that expert failed to recognize that a lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence are mutually exclusive.
The court of appeals noted that the lack of testamentary and undue influence are two distinct grounds for avoiding a will. It also acknowledged that many courts have found that a finding of no testamentary capacity and a finding of undue influence are in conflict. Quoting a former Texas Supreme Court case, the court stated: "While testamentary incapacity implies the want of intelligent mental power, undue influence implies the existence of testamentary capacity subjected to and controlled by a dominant influence or power." The court of appeals acknowledged that the Supreme Court had recognized that a finding of undue influence implies the existence of a sound mind. However, it found that neither the Supreme Court nor it had held that a finding of undue influence requires the existence of sound mind. In fact, the court noted that a previous Supreme Court case had recognized: "weakness of mind and body, whether produced by infirmities of age or by disease or otherwise, may be considered as a material circumstance in determining whether or not a person was in a condition to be susceptible to undue influence."
The court of appeals concluded that testamentary incapacity and undue influence are not necessarily mutually exclusive. "In fact, one (incapacity) may be a factor in the existence of the other (undue influence)." Accordingly, the court was unwilling to hold that in all cases a person cannot both lack testamentary capacity and be unduly influenced. Thus, the Court held that the expert was not precluded from opining on both questions, and also found that the jury's affirmative findings on both questions were not an irreconcilable conflict.
The Court next viewed the sufficiency of evidence to support the findings of lack of mental capacity. The Court concluded that there was legally and factually sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that Wilbur lacked testamentary capacity to execute the 2003 will. The Court found that an expert testified after reviewing his medical records and multiple depositions that Wilbur had dementia before and after the execution of the will and therefore had dementia when he executed the will. Furthermore, Wilbur's answers to questions by another physician days before the will was executed supported an opinion that he lacked the ability to understand the complicated will that he executed. Finally, the court of appeals affirmed the jury's finding that Tracy had not acted in good faith and the trial court's denial of her attorney's fees was proper.