In 1924, Cora McCrabb (along with two co-owners) owned 1,448.50 acres of farm and pasture land. In that same year, Cora executed her Last Will and Testament, bequeathing all of her “farm lands and pasture lands” equally to her three grandchildren, Jessie, J.F., and Mary Lee McCrabb. Cora gave the residue of her estate to only one of the grandchildren, Jessie.
In 1927, Cora and her co-owners sold the 1,448.50 acres of “farm lands and pasture lands” in fee simple to J. L. Dubose. Dubose simultaneously conveyed to Cora and her co-owners an undivided one-half interest in the oil, gas, and minerals in and under the 1,448.50 acres of farm lands and pasture lands. Cora did not change her Last Will and Testament. Cora died in 1929.
Many years later, in 2013, the heirs of J.F. and Mary McCrabb filed a petition for a declaration that Cora’s share of the undivided mineral interest under the “farm lands and pasture lands” passed equally to all three grandchildren. The heirs of Jessie McCrabb filed a counterclaim asking for a declaration that Cora’s entire mineral interest passed to Jessie McCrabb alone pursuant to the residuary clause in the 1924 Last Will and Testament. The trial court sided with the heirs of Jesse McCrabb.
The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the minerals had passed to the three grandchildren in equal shares. See Boothe v. Greene, __ SW3d ___ (Tex. Civ.App.—Corpus Christi 2017, pet. filed).
Interpreting Texas Wills: The Doctrine of Ademption
Under Texas law, when interpreting wills, courts will give try to give meaning to the intent of the person executing the testament. However, the law and the courts recognize that many years may elapse between the execution of a will and death of the testator. During that time, the testator may sell or lose property listed in the will. The legal doctrine of “ademption” covers that sort of circumstance. Ademption occurs when a specific bequest no longer exists because it either has disappeared from the testator’s estate or has been disposed of by the testator during the testator’s lifetime.
As an example, take an automobile: You own a nice, new shiny red F-10 pickup truck. In your Last Will and Testament, you make a specific bequest give “my F-10 pickup truck to my nephew…” However, in the next couple of years, you tire of your F-10 pickup and trade it in for a very cool black Bentley Mulsanne. If you pass soon thereafter, by virtue of the ademption doctrine, your nephew takes nothing since you no longer own a F-10 pickup truck.
Interpreting Texas Wills: Real Property and Coexisting Surface and Mineral Estates
Applying the legal principles to the facts of the Boothe case, the heirs of Jesse McCrabb argued that, since Cora sold the “farm lands and the pasture lands” in 1927, those lands were no longer in Cora’s estate to pass in equal parts to the three grandchildren. Rather, everything, including the mineral estate, became part of the residual of the estate all going to Jessie. In our car example, the new Bentley would become part of the residual of your estate since you did not make a special bequest with respect to the Mulsanne.
However, the heirs of Jessie McCrabb lost on appeal because under Texas law real property has two coexisting estates – the surface estate and the underground mineral estate covering minerals, oil, and gas. Cora clearly sold the surface estate. That, of course, was “lost” to the heirs by virtue of ademption. However, J. L. Dubose conveyed back to Cora a portion of the mineral estate. That, according to the Court of Appeals, was part of the “farms lands and pasture lands.” As such, the mineral estate passed to all three grandchildren in equal shares.
To continue with our vehicle example, imagine that you lease your F-10 pickup to a good and valuable friend. You make a contract providing that, for $100 paid up front, your friend may drive the pickup truck for the next two years. In effect, you have divided the truck into two estates – right to own and right to drive. Let’s say you do not change your Last Will and Testament and your nephew is still the designated heir for the truck. If you become deceased during those two years, only the second “estate” is “lost” through ademption. But the F-10 pickup is still part of your estate. Your nephew will inherit ownership and, eventually, the right to drive it once that right reverts.
If you are having a problem interpreting a will, feel free to contact attorney my office at 214-236-9936 or toll-free at 888-818-5880.