In re Estate of Ethridge, No. 11-17-00291-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 9564 (Tex. App.—Eastland Oct. 31, 2019, no pet.)
In this case, the Eastland Court of Appeals held that a devise of “personal effects” in a will did not include special mineral interests.
Mildred Ethridge died in 1994. In her will, which she drafted without the assistance of an attorney, she recited that the will was “for the purpose of the distribution of my entire estate, real, personal and mixed, which I wish to have take effect at my death.” However, her will contained only two devises: (1) she devised “all my personal effects” to her nephew Davis, and (2) she devised her “residence and homestead” to another person.
The trial court determined that, because there was no residuary clause in the will, Ethridge’s will failed to dispose of the minerals. As a result, Ethridge died intestate as to her mineral interests. Davis, a nephew by marriage, appealed that decision, contending that the term “personal effects” referred to all property of any kind owned by Ethridge and that he was entitled to her mineral interests.
The court disagreed, observing that the phrase “personal effects” has “customarily been defined narrowly as a subset of personal property…generally refer[ing] to articles bearing intimate relation or association to the person of the testator.” As examples, the court cited cases referring to clothing, jewelry, luggage, “toilet articles,” eye glasses, dentures, and “similar chattels.” The court concluded that “Mineral interests do not fall within the typical definition of personal effects.” The court indicated that there was no clear intention in the will to give that phrase any other meaning.
The court acknowledged that the will declared the intention of disposing of all the testator’s property, and indicated that “the mere making of a will is evidence that the testator had no intent to die intestate and creates a presumption that the testator intended to dispose of his entire estate.” However, that presumption “is not strong enough to empower a court to write a residuary clause into a will where none previously existed.”
The appellate court concluded that the trial court correctly determined that Ethridge died intestate as to her mineral interests.