When Is a Texas Cause of Action “Appertaining or Incident to” an Estate?

Legal Terminology

Estates Code on Probate Suit Transfer:

Texas law authorizes a statutory probate court to transfer to itself from a district court a cause of action “appertaining to or incident to an estate pending in the statutory probate court.”

Mandamus relief:

Available only when a trial court clearly abuses its discretion and when there is no adequate remedy on appeal.

Probate Case

In re SWEPI, L.P., 85 S.W.3d 800 (Tex. 2002)

Facts & Procedural History: Claim distribution

In 1976, Margaret Bridwell Bowdle (Testator) died in Wichita County, Texas. During her lifetime, Testator was a general partner in the company, alongside her father, J.S. Bridwell. Testator had an undivided one-fourth partnership interest, while her father had a three-fourths partnership interest. In 1975, the year prior to Testator’s death, Bridwell Oil gave certain mineral leasehold interests to Shell Oil but retained 6.25% overriding royalty interests (the Shell royalty interests) on them.

In 1977, her will was probated, and three trusts were established for her three children: Bonnie Lynne Bowdle Whiteis, Alison Gale Bowdle, and Brian Lee Bowdle (now deceased). Each trust received an undivided one-third share of her property, after expenses and specific bequests, and included her partnership in Bridwell Oil Company (Bridwell Oil). All three trusts terminated under their own terms, and Testator’s partnership interest in Bridwell Oil passed to her descendants. The current partners of Bridwell Oil included: (1) seven trusts created under the will of J.S. Bridwell, (2) Margaret Bowdle’s daughters Bonnie Lynn Whiteis and Allison Gale Bowdle, and (3) the Alicia L. Bowdle Trust. In addition to the Shell royalty interests, Testator owned other mineral interests which were assigned to Mobil (Mobil royalty interests), while reserving a 6.25% overriding royalty interest. Mobil royalty interests were later distributed to the beneficiaries, Bonnie Lynne Whiteis, Alison Gale Bowdle, and Alicia Bowdle. Alicia Bowdle transferred her interests into the Alicia L. Bowdle Trust.

In 1982, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved Shell and Mobil’s proposal to unitize various tracts involving the mineral interests, and the interest owners formed the McElmo Dome Unit Agreement. This agreement included Bridwell Oil. In the late 1990s, several overriding royalty interest owners, (Bailey and Bridwell Oil, amongst others), began questioning whether Shell and Mobil were properly calculating royalties on carbon dioxide produced from the McElmo Dome unit. This led to Bailey and Bridwell Oil’s suit against Shell (the Bailey suit), which involved only the Shell royalty interests held by Bridwell Oil, not the Mobil royalty interests. In 1999, the co-trustees of the Alicia L. Bowdle Trust filed a class-action lawsuit in Denton County Probate Court (the Shores class action) against various Shell defendants, Mobil defendants, and Cortez Pipeline (the owner of the gas pipeline). The plaintiffs alleged Shell had underpaid royalties for carbon dioxide produced from the McElmo Dome Unit.

After the filing of the Shores class action, Bonnie Lynn Whiteis and Alicia Bowdle filed an application with the Wichita County Court at Law Number 2 to obtain the appointment of an administrator for Testator’s estate. The application sought to appoint Gary Shores, a named plaintiff in the Shores class action and the general manager of Bridwell Oil, as the estate’s administrator. After his appointment by the Wichita County Court, Shore filed a motion to transfer the suit to the Denton County Probate Court, stating this would allow the Bailey suit and Shores class action to be consolidated and tried together. The Court approved the motion. Shell later sought mandamus relief from the 2nd Court of Appeals, which was denied, and led Shell to file a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that the Bailey suit was not appertaining or incident to Testator’s estate, meaning that the probate court lacked statutory authority to transfer the Bailey suit from Harris County to itself. Since the transfer from Harris County interfered with its jurisdiction, mandamus relief was necessary. The Court conditionally granted the writ for mandamus relief and instructed that the probate court vacate its transfer order. To explain further, the Court stated that none of the relief requested by the Bailey suit parties sought to directly affect Testator’s estate (the parties sought relief related to royalty payments made to a partnership that no longer exists). In addition, the Shores class action did not affect the estate because it only involved the royalties for Mobil shares, not Shell. Therefore, the controlling issue in the Bailey suit was not the settlement, partition, or distribution of the estate, and the probate court abused its discretion by transferring the suit without the necessary statutory authority.

Main Considerations: Rules of Civil Procedure

Is a former partnership between a decedent and her estate (involving a suit pertaining to royalty payments on an overriding royalty interest) considered appertaining to or incident to the estate so that a statutory probate court may exercise its Section 5B transfer jurisdiction?

No, this suit is not one in which a court may transfer under Section 5B of the Probate Code [now the Texas Estates Code].

When is a cause of action appertaining to or incident to an estate?

When the law explicitly defines it as such or if the controlling issue in the suit is the settlement, partition, or distribution of an estate. The law defines “appertaining to estates” and “incident to an estate” to include:

The probate of wills, the issuance of letters testamentary and of administration, and the determination of heirship, and also include, but are not limited to, all claims by or against an estate, all actions for trial of title to land and for the enforcement of liens thereon, all actions for trial of the right of property, all actions to construe wills, the interpretation and administration of testamentary trusts and the applying of constructive trusts, and generally all matters relating to the settlement, partition, and distribution of estates of deceased persons.

The Takeaway

In re SWEPI, L.P. shows that a cause of action is not considered appertaining or incident to an estate (and thus not transferable under Section 5B of the Probate Code) where it is: (1) not explicitly defined as such; or (2) where the controlling issue does not directly affect an estate.

Do you need an Experienced Attorney to help with a San Antonio estate contest?

If you are considering contesting an estate in San Antonio, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney. The laws governing estate contests are complex and can be difficult to navigate without legal assistance. An experienced attorney will be able to help you understand the applicable laws and build a strong case on your behalf. Call us today for a FREE attorney consultation. (210) 436-6601.


Related questions:

Does an executor have to show accounting to beneficiaries in Texas?

Texas law does not require executors to show accounting to beneficiaries. However, many beneficiaries request an accounting so they can see how the estate’s assets are being managed. If an executor denies a beneficiary’s request for an accounting, the court may order the executor to provide one.

How long do you have to make a claim against an estate in Texas?

If the unsecured creditor does not bring forth their claims within four months of notification, they may be barred from collecting on those debts.

How long does an executor have to distribute assets in Texas?

If you’re the executor of an estate in Texas, you have a few important responsibilities. One of them is distributing the assets of the estate to the rightful heirs. But how long do you have to do this?

The answer may surprise you. There’s no set timeframe for distributing assets in Texas. The law simply requires that you do it “in a reasonable time.” What’s reasonable will depend on the circumstances of the estate, but generally speaking, most executors are able to wrap things up within a year or two.

Of course, there are always exceptions. If the estate is particularly complex, it may take longer to distribute the assets. And if there are disputes among the heirs, that can also cause delays.

But as long as you’re making a good faith effort to distribute the assets in a reasonable time, you should be fine. So if you’re the executor of an estate in Texas, don’t worry too much about how long it’s taking. Just make sure you’re doing your best to get it done in a timely fashion.

What triggers probate in Texas?

There are several different triggers that can cause probate in Texas. One of the most common is the death of the owner of the estate. Other triggers can include the sale of property, the marriage or divorce of the owner, or the owner becoming incapacitated. If any of these events occur, it is important to consult with an experienced probate attorney to determine whether or not probate will be necessary.

How to file a motion of discovery in Texas?

If you are an executor or administrator of an estate in Texas, and you need to file a motion for discovery, there are a few things you should know. First, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure allow for broad discovery in estate litigation matters. This means that you can request information from the other side about almost any aspect of the case.

However, before you start filing motions left and right, keep in mind that the court will only grant your motion if it is necessary to help you prove your case or defend against the other side’s claims. In other words, don’t ask for information just for the sake of asking; make sure that whatever you’re requesting will actually be useful to you.

To file a motion for discovery, you’ll need to prepare and file a written motion with the court. Be sure to include all relevant information, such as what you want to discover and why it is important to your case. Once your motion is filed, the other side will have an opportunity to respond.

If you’re not sure whether or not filing a motion for discovery is the right move in your case, talk to an experienced probate litigation attorney who can advise you on how best to proceed.

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