Face Challenges Confidently

451 Meekins v. Wisnoski

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion.  You should consult your attorney if the case may be of significance to you.
Meekins v. Wisnoski, 404 S.W.3d 690 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, no pet.) held that a receiver’s deed out of an estate was effective to convey all of the interests owned by the decedant, divested all title the devisees would have otherwise acquired under the will, and that no reservation of the minerals would be implied into the receiver’s deed.  Simplified, Lavern Meekins (“Lavern”) owned 1/2 of the surface and 1/2 of the minerals at the time of her death.  Her husband, Robert F. Meekins, Sr. (“Meekins, Sr.”) owned the other 1/2 of the surface.  Lavern’s will left all to Robert F. Meekins, Jr. (“Meekins, Jr.”).  Meekins, Sr. filed an application for appointment of a receiver in Lavern’s estate to pay ad valorem taxes owed by the estate.  The probate court appointed a receiver to sell the property and to distribute the proceeds equally between Meekins, Sr. and Meekins, Jr.  The partition order did not specify whether the probate court intended to partition the mineral estate or only the surface estate.  The receiver for Lavern’s estate and Meekins, Sr. executed a deed conveying the property with no reservations to the Wisnoskis.  Meekins, Jr. did not appeal the probate court’s approval of the sale or file a bill of review.  Meekins, Jr. filed suit in trespass to try title against the Wisnoskis, claiming that: (1) Lavern’s interests in the surface and the minerals passed to Meekins, Jr. by Lavern’s will, and thus could not be conveyed by the receiver, and (2) the receiver’s deed did not convey the minerals.  The main issue in the case was whether the receiver’s deed conveyed to the Wisnoskis the interests in the property that Lavern owned on the date of her death.
Texas Probate Code § 37 provides:  “‘When a person dies, leaving a lawful will, all of his estate devised or bequeathed by such will . . . shall vest immediately in the devisees or legatees of such estate . . . ; subject, however, to the payment of the debts of the testator.’”  Meekins, Jr. argued that because the property belonging to the estate vested in him, the receiver’s deed conveyed nothing.  The court disagreed.  Meekins, Jr. held a vested property interest, but his interest was subject to the administration of Lavern’s estate.  “The administrator of the estate holds legal title and a superior right to possess estate property and to dispose of it as necessary to pay the debts of the estate . . . .  If the administrator exercises this dispositive power, the sale divests the beneficiary of his interest in the property.”  “Similarly, a probate court may appoint a receiver to partition and sell estate property for purposes of administration and settlement of the estate.”  Here, because there was a need to pay unpaid taxes, the receiver had the authority to convey the estate’s interest in the property to the Wisnoskis.
The receiver’s deed, in the blank provided for “Reservations from Conveyance,” stated “None.”  Meekins, Jr. conceded there was no express reservation of the minerals, but asserted that there was an implied reservation of the minerals.  The receiver’s deed in the legal description included a reference to the 1958 deed, which was the instrument that originally severed the surface and the minerals estates.  However, a reservation by implication in favor of the grantor is not favored by the courts.  Because there was no language in the receiver’s deed clearly showing a reservation of the mineral rights, the court held that the receiver’s deed conveyed all of the estate’s interest to the Wisnoskis.
The significance of the case is that it continues the line of authorities which refuse to imply a mineral reservation in grantor.  Here, Meekins, Jr. had his chance to attack the receiver’s deed in the probate proceeding, but once that avenue was closed, there was not much chance that the deed could be successfully challenged and no chance that the power of the receiver could be challenged.