INDUSTRY NEWSBeneficiaries Under Will Hold a Vested Interest in Property Upon Testator’s Death, Subject to the Administration of the Estate
Contributor, Jaime J. Trevino, Jr.
In May of 2013, the Court of Appeals, Fourteenth District, Houston, Texas, was presented with a case regarding the rights of a beneficiary under a will. The Court held that a beneficiary under a will holds a vested interest in the property, subject however, to the administration of the Estate in the case of Meekins v. Wisnoski, 404 S.W.3d 690 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, no pet.).
In 1958, Kathleen E. Cox conveyed the surface and a 1/32 non-participating royalty interest in the mineral estate of land in Grimes County jointly to her daughter, Laverne Cox Meekins (hereinafter “Laverne”), and Robert F. Meekins, Sr. (hereinafter “Meekins, Sr.”).
In 1977, Kathleen died, devising the remainder of the mineral estate to her other daughter, Elloise Cox (hereinafter “Cox”).
Cox died in 1992. She devised one-half (1/2) of her interest in the mineral estate to Laverne and the one-half (1/2) to Meekins, Jr.
Laverne died in February of 2003, leaving her interest in the property to Meekins, Jr.
In August 2003, a guardian was appointed for the person and estate of Meekins, Sr.
In September 2004, Meekins, Sr., by and through his guardian, requested the Probate Court appoint an appraiser for his property so that it may be sold to pay debts. An appraiser was appointed and put forth the recommendation that they property be sold in its entirety.
In September 2005, the Probate Court found the land “not capable of being partitioned in kind” and ordered it to be sold “as a whole” with the proceeds divided “between the co-owners as appropriate, after the will of Laverne Meekins is admitted to probate.” At this time, the will had not been filed for probate.
Meekins, Sr., received an offer on the property, but could not close the deal because of the pending administration of the Estate of Laverne.
In February of 2006, Meekins, Sr., filed an application for the appointment of a receiver for the Estate of Laverne Meekins, citing that “the property was in danger of being lost, damaged, or materially injured in that there existed an ad valorem tax suit against the property for delinquent taxes.”
In April of 2006, Laverne’s Last Will and Testament was admitted to probate. The Probate Court appointed a Receiver (hereinafter “Receiver”) to sell the property, deduct expenses, and distribute the proceeds equally between Meekins, Sr., and Meekins, Jr.
On September 15, 2006, the Receiver for the Estate of Laverne Meekins and the Guardian for Meekins, Sr., executed a deed conveying the property, with no reservations, to the Wisnoskis.
On September 20, 2006, the Probate Court signed a decree confirming the sale of the property. Meekins, Jr., objected to the sale, individually and as Executor of the Estate of Laverne Meekins, on the ground that the Receiver had authority to sell only the surface estate. The Probate Court “approved” the Receiver’s actions. No appeal was filed by Meekins, Jr., against the order confirming the sale and approving the actions of the Receiver, nor was a bill of review.
On September 10, 2010, Meekins, Jr., filed the suit at hand, (1) claiming an interest in 50% of the surface estate, (2) seeking a declaration of the status of his and Wisnoskis’ title to the property and (3) seeking a judgment that his title to the property is superior to the Wisnoskis’ title.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Wisnoskis declaring: (1) they own 100% of the surface estate, thereby divesting Meekins, Jr., of all right, title and interest in the surface estate; and (2) they own an undivided 50% interest in the mineral estate. The Court also ordered that Meekins, Jr., take nothing by way of his claims against the Wisnoskis, and awarded the Wisnoskis attorney fees and costs.
On appeal, Meekins argued that the trial court erred in: (1) declaring the Wisnoskis own 100% of the surface estate and 50% of the mineral estate because title to 50% of the surface estate, 50% of the mineral estate and a 1/64 NPRI vested in Meekins, Jr., immediately upon Laverne’s death; (2) ordering Meekins, Jr., to take nothing because the effect of a take nothing judgment against a plaintiff in a trespass to try title suit is to vest title in the defendants and it is undisputed that Meekins, Jr. owns 50% of the mineral estate; and (3) awarding attorney’s fees to the Wisnoskis because such fees are not available in a trespass to try title case.
Ultimately, the Appeals Court held that a receiver’s deed out of an estate is effective to convey all of the interests owned by the decedent. It also divests all title that the devisees would have otherwise acquired under the will. Additionally, the Court ruled that no reservation of the minerals would be implied into the receiver’s deed.
Meekins, Jr.’s, first argument is that the interest in the land in question never belonged to Laverne’s estate because it vested immediately in him upon her death. Thus, he asserts that the Receiver’s deed to the Wisnoskis conveyed no interest. The Court decides that he is correct in that a beneficiary under a will holds a vested interest, however, that interest is subject to administration of the estate. Such administration holds superior right to possess and dispose of the property for the payments of the debts of the estate, but upon exercise of these superior rights, the beneficiary would be divested of his interest in the lands. Here, although Meekins, Jr., obtained a vested right under the Will of Laverne, that right was subject to divestment during the administration of the estate. Since, there was an application and appointment of a receiver to sell the Estate’s interest in the property to satisfy delinquent taxes and distribute the remaining funds to Meekins, Sr. and Jr., the receiver was entitled to convey the Estate’s interest in the property.
As a collateral issue, the court looked into the “implied reservation” of the minerals as asserted by Meekins, Jr. The Receiver and Guardianship Deed expressly stated that there was no reservation from the conveyance. Meekins, Jr.’s primary argument is that the Estate never owned the minerals. The Court found, as indicated above, that the Estate did have an interest in the mineral estate, and thus, it would need to find an implied reservation of the minerals. The Court stated that implied reservations to benefit the Grantor are not favored by the courts, and relied on the holdings of other courts to enforce the doctrine that there must be a clear intention to reserve or except an interest from a conveyance. Additionally, the Court looked to the fact that the Receiver and Guardian Deed expressly stated that it had no reservations from the conveyance. Thus, the Court held that because there was no clear language in the Receiver and Guardianship Deed showing a reservation of the minerals, the deed conveyed all of the grantor’s interest.
This case reinforces that a devisee under a will has a vested interest in the property, but that the interest is subject to the administration of the estate. Additionally, this case highlights the established rulings that a mineral reservation must be shown with a clear intention and will not be implied into deeds.
The above information is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice on any subject matter, and may not represent current legal developments. Any person viewing the above should seek legal advice from a licensed attorney prior to acting or refraining from acting, based upon the information provided above. Mazurek, Alford & Holliday, P.C., expressly disclaims all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based upon any or all of the contents of the information provided above.
 We note that the majority of the collateral issues discussed in the case are not pertinent to this analysis.
 Meekins, Sr. is the husband of Laverne and father of Robert F. Meekins, Jr. (hereinafter “Meekins, Jr. and/or Plaintiff”).
 For purposes of this analysis, we are looking only to the alleged error in the disposition of the property to the Wisnoskis by the receiver’s deed. That is, did the deed from the Receiver and Guardian convey the interest that Laverne owned in the property at her death?
 See Tex. Prob. Code §37 (stating that all of the estate of a deceased person leaving a lawful will shall vest immediately in the devisees or legatees of such estate…subject to the payment of debts of the testator). This section is now codified in the Tex. Est. Code § 101.001 and 101.051.