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Appellate Case Centers on Impact of Mediated Family Settlement Agreement on Probate Claims

MP900382652Can you challenge acts that occur before a legal agreement is signed into effect? In this Texas case, a family came to terms with an estate through a mediated agreement and released each other from claims. However, one family member was not done with the matter.

A dispute between family members that resulted in a mediated family settlement agreement came before Judge John M. Bailey of the Court of Appeals of Texas, who wrote the opinion, “In the Estate of Mathis.”

Michael Mathis appealed a decision from a contested probate proceeding that was resolved by a mediated family settlement agreement and mutual release. The decedent, Richard E. Mathis, Jr., died in 2014. Appellees Richard V. Mathis and Betty Mathis filed an application to probate a will executed by the decedent. Jody Jent filed an opposition to Appellee's application to probate the 2012 will.

The parties executing the Mediated Family Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release consisted of Appellee, Jent, and Appellant. They executed the family settlement agreement in October 2015. The parties agreed that the 2012 will would be admitted to probate "without opposition in any form by [Jent] or by [Appellant]." The family settlement agreement also set out an agreed disposition of the decedent's estate. The parties agreed in the family settlement agreement to release any and all claims and causes of action between them or involving the decedent "from the beginning of time through the date of the execution of this Agreement."

Pursuant to the family settlement agreement, the trial judge admitted the 2012 will to probate and appointed Appellee as the executor of the decedent's estate.

In March of 2016, Appellant filed a petition claiming that Appellee fraudulently procured the probate of the 2012 will—the same will that was admitted to probate pursuant to the family settlement agreement. He argued that the 2012 will was invalid "because the creation of the Will was the result of a criminal conspiracy, and became fraud, conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud, perjury, fraud on the Court, Theft, passing a fraudulent document to a Government agency and other unnamed crimes."

Appellant also complained about a final report of the estate filed by the Appellee, charging him with numerous crimes, lying to the court and in his deposition, and that he had taken advantage of the decedent. Appellant also alleged several matters occurring in a guardianship proceeding involving the decedent. Appellant alleged that several other individuals conspired with Appellee in committing these acts.

Appellees responded by asserting that his claims had no legal or factual basis because the acts that he alleged, occurred prior to the execution of the family settlement agreement and that all his claims were released in the agreement.

Shortly after this, Appellant declared that he revoked the family settlement agreement "for cause."

The trial court advised Appellant that his attempt to unilaterally rescind the family settlement agreement, simply by filing a notice to rescind it, was invalid. The trial court further advised Appellant that the trial court had entered an order approving the family settlement agreement. The trial court advised the parties that it was going to grant Appellees' motion to dismiss. The trial court warned Appellant that, if he filed future motions, he could be ordered to pay attorney's fees in the future.

On appeal, Appellant claimed that the trial court ignored his motion to remove the executor. He asserts in his first issue that the trial court erred in "not filing" this motion. In presenting this issue, Appellant said the trial court erred in stating that it would not consider various motions he had filed, because they were based on the allegation that the family settlement agreement was not valid.

Judge Bailey noted that all Appellant's issues were related because they all have the same operative fact—that the family settlement agreement precluded Appellant from attempting to remove Appellee as the independent executor or suing Appellees for damages.

Appellees argued that all the alleged facts and alleged misconduct occurred prior to Appellant's execution of the family settlement agreement. They said all his claims had no basis in law, because they were released in the family settlement agreement. The Court of Appeals reviewed Appellant's petition and agreed that the facts alleged in the petition predate the execution of the family settlement agreement.

In his petition, Appellant didn’t seek the revocation of the family settlement agreement, but rather, asked for monetary damages from Appellees. Without a claim asking the trial court to revoke the settlement agreement, Appellant's petition didn’t have a basis in law. Accordingly, the trial court didn’t err in granting Appellees' motion to dismiss.

The Appellant’s attempts to remove the Appellee as the independent executor were also deemed to have been precluded by the family settlement agreement, thus resolving the Appellant’s fourth issue. The trial court’s judgment to dismiss the Appellant’s claims was affirmed.

Reference: Justia (March 15, 2018) “In the Estate of Mathis”

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