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Life Care Planning Know property you own; draft will to meet intentions

Sandra W. Reed
Sandra Reed

Leonor’s last will and testament contained a bequest of a life estate to her son, Leon Oscar Sr., of all her right, title and interest in the Ranch “Las Piedras.” She left the remainder interest in this property to his three children. She devised the residuary of her estate to Leon and his two siblings.

After Leon’s death, his three children sued claiming his life estate in the Las Piedras had included the mineral interests. The Texas Supreme Court reversed the decisions of the trial and appeals courts, holding that only the surface interest was included in Leonor’s bequest. ConocoPhillips Co. v Ramirez, 599 S.W.3d 296 (2020).

What type conveyances influenced the court’s decision?

In making its decision, the Court found that the capitalization and quotation marks used showed that the capitalization and quotation marks indicated the term had a special meaning to the family due to the fact that multiple deeds and partitions had previously separated the surface rights and mineral rights. Also, Leon Oscar Sr. had joined in mineral interest leases of the ranch with other family members. This was consistent with a conclusion that his ownership of the ranch was of the surface only and did not include the minerals.

Why is this case important?

This recent case is important because many families in Texas hold property that has been passed down from generation to generation. Often, they refer to the property in short-hand as did the Ramirez family. Frequently, over the years, deeds, leasing and other agreements involving property lead to confusion over exactly what interests are held by which individuals.

Before writing a will, each landowner should make certain he or she has reviewed all transactions affecting the land so that any bequest of the property in the will is worded to convey exactly what the testator owns and what the testator intends to devise.

In the Ramirez case, the trial judge had awarded and the appeals court had affirmed to the petitioners more than $4 million, assessed $12 million against ConocoPhillips and awarded $1,125,000 in attorney fees. Of course, these were vacated by the Supreme Court decision. But the point is that no one wants to be involved in a costly lawsuit when vigilant research and careful drafting of the will would prevent it.

Sandra W. Reed practices Elder Law in Somervell County, handling probating of estates, drafting of wills, trusts, powers of attorney and deeds as well as estate and Medicaid planning.  She lives in beautiful Chalk Mountain and can be reached at (254) 797-0211; (817) 946-2809 or at sreed@kattenbenson.com.