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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The appellant, Debra Schumann Armstrong (“Schumann”), the alleged common-law wife of the deceased, appeals two probate court orders, contending the trial court erred in: 1. denying her right to trial by jury; 2. ruling on a matter of fact at an in limine hearing; 3. ruling that she did not have standing; and 4. dismissing her plea in intervention. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The court of appeals holds that the probate court properly made a determination regarding Schumann’s standing at the in limine hearing for purposes of the estate administration proceeding. Accordingly, the court affirms the trial court’s order on the motion in limine to determine standing. The court further holds, however, that the probate court’s finding with regard to whether a common law marriage existed between Schumann and the decedent was a collateral matter to the issue before the court in the estate administration proceeding; therefore, the probate court erred in denying Schumann’s plea in intervention based on its earlier finding. Armstrong relies heavily on the contention that the proper procedure to determine standing in an estate administration proceeding is by conducting an in limine hearing. The cases on which Armstrong relies, however, exclusively involve estate administration proceedings. See Womble v. Atkins, 331 S.W.2d 294 (Tex. 1960); Sheffield v. Scott, 620 S.W.2d 691 (Tex. Civ. App. Houston [1st Dist.] 1981, writ ref’d n.r.e.). These cases do not mention any pending heirship proceeding. Although each of these cases discuss the procedure to be followed in will contest or probate contexts, “[t]he same fundamental principle that bars an uninterested party from interfering in the probate of a will is equally important in the area of estate administration.” A & W Indus. v. Day, 977 S.W.2d 738 (Tex. App. Fort Worth 1998, no pet.). The court in that case stated that, “A mere interloper has no more right to intervene in the administration of a decedent’s estate than he does in the admission of a decedent’s will to probate.” The court also said, “[A]llowing uninterested strangers to interfere in the administration of a decedent’s estate by merely alleging a factual scenario that, if true, would qualify them as”interested persons’ . . . is repugnant to the public policy of this state.” The distinction between the foregoing cases and the instant case is that the foregoing cases do not mention a simultaneously pending heirship proceeding. Section 21 of the Texas Probate Code states in pertinent part, “In all contested . . . proceedings in the . . . statutory probate court . . ., the parties shall be entitled to trial by jury as in other civil actions.” Texas Probate Code Ann. 21 (Vernon 2003). In this case, the heirship proceeding was contested; therefore, Schumann had a statutory right to trial by jury on the issue of the existence of a common- law marriage. The question then becomes whether Schumann’s actions taken in the estate administration proceeding, which required the probate court to determine her standing by making a finding with regard to the common law marriage issue, preclude Schumann from presenting the issue to a jury in the heirship proceeding. In In re Evans’ Estate, the Beaumont court of appeals faced a similar issue. 198 S.W.2d 743 (Tex. Civ. App. – Beaumont 1946, no writ). In that case, the appellees filed an application to declare heirship in a pending estate administration proceeding. The appellant filed a petition in intervention in the action to declare heirship, claiming that she was the surviving wife of the deceased. The appellees answered the petition in intervention, asserting that res judicata barred the intervention because the trial court had earlier denied the appellant’s application for letters of administration. In denying the application for letters of administration, the trial court ruled that the appellant was not related to the deceased and had no interest in the estate. The true issue before the probate court in the estate administration proceeding was whether the requested expenses should be paid. The issue of whether Schumann had standing to contest the payment was a collateral issue. To hold otherwise would deprive Schumann of her right to a jury trial on the contested issue of the existence of her common law marriage. If the court accepted Armstrong’s contention that Schumann waived her right to a jury trial by taking action in the administration proceeding, then expenses could never be challenged by a potentially interested party until after an heirship determination was made. The potentially interested party might forego any objections to preserve the right to a jury trial, and expenses might be paid that were not warranted, thereby depleting the estate. Given the unique posture of this case, the court holds that the probate court’s determination of Schumann’s standing at the in limine hearing was a collateral matter and was not conclusive for purposes of the heirship proceeding. Accordingly, the probate court’s ruling at the in limine hearing does not bar Schumann’s right to seek a jury trial in the heirship proceeding. OPINION:Lopez, C.J.; Lopez, C.J., Duncan and Speedlin, JJ.

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