A person’s inheritance rights can be affected by the community property interest of a surviving spouse as exemplified in the recent case of House v. Webb, 06-19-00054-CV, 2019 WL 6121124, at *1 (Tex. App.—Texarkana Nov. 19, 2019, pet. denied). The results of this case turned on whether the decedent had acquired real property by gift or by purchase. If it was acquired by gift then it would have been the decedent’s separate property when the decedent died. However, if it was acquired by purchase it would have been the decedent’s community property upon her death so that only 1/2 of the property would have passed to her sole heir, her son.
In this case, Elizabeth Bauman (Aunt Elizabeth) conveyed her 874 acre farm to her niece, Dianne House (the decedent). The deed from Aunt Elizabeth to Diane stated:
“I, ELIZABETH SPRADLEY BAUMAN, … for and in consideration of the love and affection which I have for my niece, the Grantee, have GRANTED, SOLD AND CONVEYED, and by these presents do GRANT, SELL AND CONVEY unto DIAN[N]E HOUSE … all of the surface (without the present merchantable timber) and mineral estate in the following described real property in Nacogdoches County, Texas, to-wit: … “Big Loco Farm” … and “Little Farm.”
After Dianne died, her son, David, inherited the farm. David contended that pursuant to the terms of the deed that Aunt Elizabeth gifted the farm to Dianne and therefore it was Dianne’s separate property. Thus, upon her death David inherited 100% of the farm and Dianne’s surviving husband, Leland, did not have a community property interest in the farm. Leland contended that the conveyance of the farm was a sale to Dianne and therefore he had a community property interest in it.
The dispute proceeded to trial and the jury found that the conveyance of the farm was a gift to Dianne. On appeal, Leland’s position was that the deed, by stating that Elizabeth “Granted, Sold, and Conveyed” the farm to Dianne created a sale rather than a gift so that the farm became his and Dianne’s community property.
However, the court of appeals disagreed and found that the unambiguous language in the deed that stated that the property was conveyed “for and in consideration of” love and affection clearly showed that Aunt Elizabeth intended to gift the property to Dianne. Thus, it was Dianne’s property and David inherited it free from any community property interest claimed by Leland.
As can be seen from this case, words of conveyance do matter, and deeds should be carefully drafted to clearly express the intent of the parties to the deed.