X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Attorney John Corbin prepared Michele I. Zorn’s will. Zorn signed the will on May 5, 2003. Zorn’s will named Tilde Jones as executrix and as a beneficiary of Zorn’s estate. Jones, however, worked in Corbin’s office as an independent contractor for several years, including the time during which Corbin drafted Zorn’s will and when Zorn executed the will. Jones also performed work for several other attorneys who office-shared with Corbin; she kept track of her time and each attorney paid her for the time she spent on their cases. After Zorn passed away, Jones filed Zorn’s will for probate. Linda Krown, Zorn’s sister and heir at law, filed a motion for declaratory judgment, arguing that Texas Probate Code �58b voided all devises and bequests to Jones. Section 58b provides that “a devise or bequest of property in a will to an heir or employee of the attorney who prepares or supervises the preparation of the will is void.” The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Krown’s motion for declaratory judgment, voided all bequests and devises to Jones, and ordered that the bequests to Jones be delivered to Zorn’s intestate heirs. The trial court’s declaratory judgment also ordered Jones to pay Krown’s costs and attorneys’ fees in the amount of $3,792. The trial court signed findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting its judgment. Jones appealed. She contended that the trial court improperly construed �58b. Specifically, Jones argued that she was not Corbin’s employee. Rather, she was an independent contractor not covered by �58b. HOLDING:Affirmed. The term “employee” is not defined in the Texas Probate Code, the court stated. Because the language of �58b is unambiguous, the court applied the “plain and common” meaning of the word employee from the sixth edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, which states that an employee is “one who works for an employer; a person working for salary or wages.” According to the court, the evidence demonstrated that Corbin paid Jones for legal services that she performed for him in his office. Thus, the court held that under its definition of employee, Jones was Corbin’s employee. Neither �58b nor any other Texas Probate Code section draws a distinction between workers employed as independent contractors earning hourly wages and workers employed as traditional employees earning a salary. Because the trial court properly found that Jones was Corbin’s employee under �58b, and because the evidence conclusively established that Jones did not fall within any of the exceptions to �58b, the court held that the trial court correctly applied probate code �58b to void bequests to Jones under Zorn’s will’s. The court also held that Jones failed to demonstrate that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding attorney’s fees to Krown. OPINION:Walker, J.; Cayce, C.J., and Walker and McCoy, J.J.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.