In Caceres v. Kerri Grahamas Dependent Adm’r of the Estate of Alicia Maribel Procell, decedent was survived by a minor child and her estate was insolvent. No. 14-18-00826-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 4198 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] May 28, 2020, no pet. history). The trial court appointed a dependent administrator and approved the administrator’s inventory, appraisement, and list of claims. The administrator had included the decedent’s homestead on the estate’s inventory and represented that the estate had a claim for the rental income from the homestead. The trial court overruled the objections of two of the children to the inventory, appraisement, and list of claims, and granted the administrator’s motion to terminate the property’s homestead protection and to subject it, and the income it generated, to the dependent administration.

On appeal, the appellate court disagreed with the trial court because one of the decedent’s children was a minor when her mother died. The court held that the homestead remains exempt as a matter of law from the claims of the estate’s creditors and is not subject to administration. The court also held that title to the homestead vested in the decedent’s four children upon her death; thus, rent due after her death belongs to the estate. The court discussed the law governing homestead and a decedent’s minor children:

[A]n application by a person authorized to act on the minor’s behalf, the court must “set aside . . . the homestead for the use and benefit of . . . the minor children.” This means that, with a few narrow exceptions not presented here, the homestead is not liable for the payment of any of the estate’s debts. Unless one of the express exceptions applies, the homestead is not subject to administration.  Instead, the decedent’s children share “absolute title” to the homestead. Second, a trial court has discretion to permit a minor’s guardian to “to use and occupy” the homestead under a court order. Third, the homestead may not be partitioned among the decedent’s heirs for so long as the trial court permits the guardian of the decedent’s minor children “to use and occupy” the homestead.

Id. The court held that the fact that the administrator included the homestead property in the inventory did not mean that it was presumptively homestead:

Although there is case law holding that inclusion of real property in the administrator’s inventory is prima facie evidence that the property is not a homestead, and thus, a homestead should not be included on the inventory, we cannot say that the inclusion of homestead property in the administrator’s inventory is per se erroneous, because the Texas Estate Code appears to permit its inclusion. “Estate” is statutorily defined to include all of a decedent’s property, and the homestead falls within that broad definition.

Id.

The court also disagreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the minor’s homestead’s rights should have been terminated when she turned eighteen. The court held: “the homestead passed free of claims by or against the estate to the decedent’s children upon their mother’s death, and it continues to be exempt homestead property even though Jennifer is no longer a minor.” Id. The court reversed the trial court’s orders and remanded for further proceedings.

Photo of David Fowler Johnson David Fowler Johnson

dfjohnson@winstead.com
817.420.8223

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary…

dfjohnson@winstead.com
817.420.8223

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the Texas Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary field in Texas. Read More

David’s financial institution experience includes (but is not limited to): breach of contract, foreclosure litigation, lender liability, receivership and injunction remedies upon default, non-recourse and other real estate lending, class action, RICO actions, usury, various tort causes of action, breach of fiduciary duty claims, and preference and other related claims raised by receivers.

David also has experience in estate and trust disputes including will contests, mental competency issues, undue influence, trust modification/clarification, breach of fiduciary duty and related claims, and accountings. David’s recent trial experience includes:

  • Representing a bank in federal class action suit where trust beneficiaries challenged whether the bank was the authorized trustee of over 220 trusts;
  • Representing a bank in state court regarding claims that it mismanaged oil and gas assets;
  • Representing a bank who filed suit in probate court to modify three trusts to remove a charitable beneficiary that had substantially changed operations;
  • Represented an individual executor of an estate against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty and an accounting; and
  • Represented an individual trustee against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty, mental competence of the settlor, and undue influence.

David is one of twenty attorneys in the state (of the 84,000 licensed) that has the triple Board Certification in Civil Trial Law, Civil Appellate and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Additionally, David is a member of the Civil Trial Law Commission of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. This commission writes and grades the exam for new applicants for civil trial law certification.

David maintains an active appellate practice, which includes:

  • Appeals from final judgments after pre-trial orders such as summary judgments or after jury trials;
  • Interlocutory appeals dealing with temporary injunctions, arbitration, special appearances, sealing the record, and receiverships;
  • Original proceedings such as seeking and defending against mandamus relief; and
  • Seeking emergency relief staying trial court’s orders pending appeal or mandamus.

For example, David was the lead appellate lawyer in the Texas Supreme Court in In re Weekley Homes, LP, 295 S.W.3d 309 (Tex. 2009). The Court issued a ground-breaking opinion in favor of David’s client regarding the standards that a trial court should follow in ordering the production of computers in discovery.

David previously taught Appellate Advocacy at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law located in Fort Worth. David is licensed and has practiced in the U.S. Supreme Court; the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Federal Circuits; the Federal District Courts for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas; the Texas Supreme Court and various Texas intermediate appellate courts. David also served as an adjunct professor at Baylor University Law School, where he taught products liability and portions of health law. He has authored many legal articles and spoken at numerous legal education courses on both trial and appellate issues. His articles have been cited as authority by the Texas Supreme Court (twice) and the Texas Courts of Appeals located in Waco, Texarkana, Beaumont, Tyler and Houston (Fourteenth District), and a federal district court in Pennsylvania. David’s articles also have been cited by McDonald and Carlson in their Texas Civil Practice treatise, William v. Dorsaneo in the Texas Litigation Guide, and various authors in the Baylor Law ReviewSt. Mary’s Law JournalSouth Texas Law Review and Tennessee Law Review.

Representative Experience

  • Civil Litigation and Appellate Law