In In Johnson’s estate, a child of the deceased accepted over $ 143,000 from the deceased’s estate and then decided to challenge the will due to his mental capacity and undue influence. N ° 20-0424, 2021 Tex. LEXIS 426 (Tex. 28 May 2021). The trial court ruled that the child could not accept a benefit under the will, then challenged the will and dismissed the child’s claim. The appeal court set aside, ruling that the child had received nothing that the child would not also receive if there was no will and that, therefore, it was not inconsistent and no was not prevented from making him contest his will. The court ruled that the executor “had failed to meet his burden, as promoter of the will, by failing to show that [MacNerland] accepted greater benefits than those to which she was entitled under the will or intestate laws. ” Username. The Texas Supreme Court accepted the promoter’s request for review and overturned the appeals court.
The Supreme Court concluded that the candidate first had the onus of proving that he had a sufficient interest in the estate. Once the candidate fulfills this onus, the onus is on the promoter of the will to provide evidence of an affirmative defense to prevent the candidate from pursuing their claim. One affirmative defense that the promoter of the will can invoke is the doctrine of acceptance of benefits. The Court describes this defense as follows:
The doctrine of acceptance of benefits prevents a party from challenging the validity of a will while enjoying its benefits. It arises from the aversion of fairness to a plaintiff who seeks to exploit irreconcilable positions. Fairness does not allow the beneficiary of a will to grasp the benefits of the will with one hand while attempting to void it with the other. A candidate may rebut the applicability of the doctrine by showing that she did not accept the benefit by will. The law does not deprive a candidate of the standing to act when she also has a current legal right to the service. In other words, if the candidate is otherwise currently entitled to the accepted advantage, her acceptance of it is not incompatible with an action for annulment of the will. For example, a candidate who accepts a bank account payable to the candidate on the death of the deceased or as an affirmation of his interest in a community area is not acting inconsistently with a will because he is doing so by means other than the will. In such a case, there is no contradictory position justifying estoppel because the contestant is not seeking to annul the will while simultaneously enjoying its benefits.
Username. The court went on to reject the theory that “a will candidate may currently accept benefits under the will on the basis of a hypothetical claim for higher benefits if a court declares it invalid.” Username. The Court said:
We rejected the idea over sixty years ago in Wright vs. Wright. As we explained in that case, the test for determining whether a competitor’s acceptance of the benefits prevents him from entering a testamentary competition “does not depend on the value of the benefits”, “[n]or should it be determined by comparing them to what the descent and distribution statuses would offer the beneficiary in the absence of a will. Rather, the doctrine asks whether the competitor has an existing legal right to these benefits other than by virtue of the will. If there is no existing right except for the bequest of the testator, acceptance of it by the candidate is incompatible with the assertion that the will is invalid.
Username. The Court also stated that this very clear test would not harm a recipient who accepts a benefit without sufficient knowledge of the facts:
MacNerland argues that an opportunistic executor could offensively dismiss a candidate’s claim by partially distributing the estate to an involuntary beneficiary to avoid a will challenge. However, the doctrine sufficiently takes this concern into account by requiring that a beneficiary voluntarily accept the service. If a beneficiary or a legatee is unaware of an important fact at the time of acceptance, he can take measures to refuse the service. MacNerland has not attempted to hand over the mutual fund account to the estate, nor to assert in this case that his acceptance of the account was involuntary.
Username. The Court therefore set aside the court of appeal and upheld the dismissal of the action by the court of first instance.
Interesting note: This case highlights the danger to a beneficiary of the estate when offered assets from the estate. If the beneficiary has any idea that he might want to challenge the will, the beneficiary should not accept the asset. Otherwise, the beneficiary will face a defense of acceptance of the benefits by the promoter of the will. There are exceptions to the defense, mainly when the beneficiary accepts the asset without knowing the material facts and the beneficiary later attempts to return the asset. There may also be other defenses, such as duress. In all cases, the defense of acceptance of the benefits does not prevent a beneficiary from contesting the will, the beneficiary can always sue the executor for breach of his obligations and / or for having sought to revoke the executor. .