In In the Interest of K.K.W., an ex-wife sued an ex-husband and the trustee of a trust that they created for breaches of fiduciary duty and sought to remove the trustee, among other claims, arising out of the trustee’s alleged unfair distribution of trust assets. No. 05-16-00795-CV, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 6539 (Tex. App.—Dallas August 20, 2018). The trial court granted a summary judgment for the ex-husband and trustee, and the ex-wife appealed.

The trustee moved for summary judgment on the breach of fiduciary duty, removal and reformation claims on the ground that the ex-wife lacked standing to assert those claims. He argued that because the only relationship the ex-wife had with the trust was as a co-settlor, she did not qualify as an “interested person” under the trust code for standing. The court of appeals disagreed:

Mother pleaded she had standing pursuant to sections 111.004(2), (6), (7); 115.001(a); and 115.011(a) and (b) of the Texas Trust Code. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. §§ 111.004 (2), (6), (7); 115.001(a); 115.011(a) and (b) (West 2014). Section 115.011 of the trust code confers standing on any “interested person” which is defined as “a trustee, beneficiary, or any other person having an interest in or claim against the trust or any person who is affected by the administration of the trust.” See id. at §§ 111.004(7) and 115.011(a). A “beneficiary,” in turn, is defined as a person for whose benefit property is held in trust, regardless of the nature of the interest. Id. at § 111.004(2). The “interest” may be legal or equitable or both, present or future, vested or contingent, defeasible or indefeasible. Id. at § 111.004(6). Whether a person, excluding a trustee or named beneficiary, is an interested person may vary from time to time and must be determined according to the particular purpose of and matter involved in any proceeding. Id. at §111.004(7). Applying this law to the facts, we conclude that Trustee failed to establish as a matter of law that Mother lacked standing to pursue these claims.

Section 3.9 of the trust provides that if K.K.W and his children and remote descendants die before the trust terminates, the trust’s principal and income shall be distributed to Father, if living, otherwise to Mother, if living. Mother, therefore, has a contingent remainder interest and contingent reversionary interest in trust property. Trustee asserts that Mother’s interest is “a remote, contingent, inheritance” interest and therefore insufficient to confer standing under the property code. However, even a remote and contingent interest is sufficient to confer standing as an interested person pursuant to the property code. See Aubrey, 523 S.W.3d at 313 (future remainder interest sufficient for standing for removal of trustee under code even if interest contingent); see also Hill v. Hunt, No. 3:07-CV-2020-O, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121494, 2009 WL 5178021, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 30, 2009) (contingent remainder interest is “interest” under section 111.004(6) and makes holder an “interested person” under section 111.004(7)). Because Trustee failed to conclusively establish that Mother was not an interested person for purposes of bringing suit under section 115.011(a), the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on these claims based on lack of standing.


The court also reversed the summary judgment as to the removal claim. The ex-wife sought removal of the trustee pursuant to section 113.082 (a)(3) and (4) of the trust code alleging, among other things, that the trustee failed to provide her with a full and complete accounting of the trust after repeated requests, failed to disclose the arrangement between the ex-husband and the trustee, and failed to provide her with notice as required by the trust instrument upon rejection of a reimbursement claim. The court held that because the trustee was not entitled to summary judgment on the sole ground he raised relative to this claim—ex-wife’s lack of standing—and none of the other bases for summary judgment which were otherwise affirmed resolved as a matter of law the bases for removal, the court reversed the summary judgment on that claim as well.

The ex-wife argued that the trustee committed constructive fraud based on a failure to disclose an alleged side-agreement with the ex-husband. The court of appeals held that:

[W]e agree Mother has a contingent remainder interest and contingent reversionary interest in trust property, so she is a beneficiary. Generally, a trustee owes the same fiduciary duty to a contingent beneficiary as to one with a vested interest. See Brown v. Scherck, 393 S.W.2d 172, 181 (Tex. Civ. App.—Corpus Christi 1965, no writ) (citing 90 C.J.S. Trust 247, page 235). Therefore, the record contains more than a scintilla of evidence Trustee owed a fiduciary duty to Mother as a contingent beneficiary of the trust. The trial court erred, therefore, when it granted summary judgment on the basis in Trustee’s motion for summary judgment against Mother’s constructive fraud cause of action.


Finally, the ex-wife argued that the partial reversal of the summary judgment warrants a reconsideration of the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees for the trustee. The trustee contended the award of attorney’s fees in his favor should not be disturbed because it was not based solely on the outcome of the case and the ex-wife had not challenged the reasonableness and necessity of the fee award. The court stated:

We review a decision to award attorney’s fees under the trust and Declaratory Judgments Act for an abuse of discretion. A trial court abuses its discretion when it reaches a decision so arbitrary and unreasonable as to amount to a clear and prejudicial error of law. Section 114.064 of the trust code and section 37.009 of the Declaratory Judgments Act authorize the trial court to make an award of costs and reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees as are equitable and just. Whether it is equitable and just to award attorney’s fees depends on the concept of fairness, in light in light of all surrounding circumstances. The conclusion that an award is equitable and just is not dependent on a finding that a party substantially prevailed. And reversal of a trial court’s decision on a declaratory judgment does not necessarily require reversal of the attorney’s fees award.

Here, based on the record before us, we cannot conclude the trial court abused its discretion in connection with its award of attorney’s fees to Trustee. Although the trial court found Trustee prevailed on all causes of action filed against him by Mother, it also found Trustee only incurred attorney’s fees defending against Mother’s claims and seeking attorney’s fees for that defense. Moreover, the trial court found Mother caused Trustee to incur additional fees by “unnecessarily prolonging this suit,” and by having her expert provide “an exorbitant number of opinions,” and repeatedly changing her theories of the case.

Even with our reversal of the trial court’s judgment with respect to Mother’s claims for removal of trustee, Trustee has still prevailed on all but one of Mother’s claims, including the central premise of case expressed in her declaratory judgment claim, which also authorized the attorney’s fees award. Further, Trustee’s argument asserted as to Mother’s removal claim was asserted against Mother’s claims for constructive fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, both of which we have affirmed. Moreover, in light of the trial court’s other findings regarding Mother’s conduct during the case, we cannot conclude the trial court abused its discretion in connection with its attorney’s fee award to Trustee. Accordingly, we resolve Mother’s fifth issue against her and will not disturb the trial court’s attorney’s fees award.


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Photo of David Fowler Johnson David Fowler Johnson

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David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the The Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary…

[email protected]

David maintains an active trial and appellate practice and has consistently worked on financial institution litigation matters throughout his career. David is the primary author of the The Fiduciary Litigator blog, which reports on legal cases and issues impacting the fiduciary field in Texas. Read More

David’s financial institution experience includes (but is not limited to): breach of contract, foreclosure litigation, lender liability, receivership and injunction remedies upon default, non-recourse and other real estate lending, class action, RICO actions, usury, various tort causes of action, breach of fiduciary duty claims, and preference and other related claims raised by receivers.

David also has experience in estate and trust disputes including will contests, mental competency issues, undue influence, trust modification/clarification, breach of fiduciary duty and related claims, and accountings. David’s recent trial experience includes:

  • Representing a bank in federal class action suit where trust beneficiaries challenged whether the bank was the authorized trustee of over 220 trusts;
  • Representing a bank in state court regarding claims that it mismanaged oil and gas assets;
  • Representing a bank who filed suit in probate court to modify three trusts to remove a charitable beneficiary that had substantially changed operations;
  • Represented an individual executor of an estate against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty and an accounting; and
  • Represented an individual trustee against claims raised by a beneficiary for breach of fiduciary duty, mental competence of the settlor, and undue influence.

David is one of twenty attorneys in the state (of the 84,000 licensed) that has the triple Board Certification in Civil Trial Law, Civil Appellate and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Additionally, David is a member of the Civil Trial Law Commission of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. This commission writes and grades the exam for new applicants for civil trial law certification.

David maintains an active appellate practice, which includes:

  • Appeals from final judgments after pre-trial orders such as summary judgments or after jury trials;
  • Interlocutory appeals dealing with temporary injunctions, arbitration, special appearances, sealing the record, and receiverships;
  • Original proceedings such as seeking and defending against mandamus relief; and
  • Seeking emergency relief staying trial court’s orders pending appeal or mandamus.

For example, David was the lead appellate lawyer in the Texas Supreme Court in In re Weekley Homes, LP, 295 S.W.3d 309 (Tex. 2009). The Court issued a ground-breaking opinion in favor of David’s client regarding the standards that a trial court should follow in ordering the production of computers in discovery.

David previously taught Appellate Advocacy at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law located in Fort Worth. David is licensed and has practiced in the U.S. Supreme Court; the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Federal Circuits; the Federal District Courts for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas; the Texas Supreme Court and various Texas intermediate appellate courts. David also served as an adjunct professor at Baylor University Law School, where he taught products liability and portions of health law. He has authored many legal articles and spoken at numerous legal education courses on both trial and appellate issues. His articles have been cited as authority by the Texas Supreme Court (twice) and the Texas Courts of Appeals located in Waco, Texarkana, Beaumont, Tyler and Houston (Fourteenth District), and a federal district court in Pennsylvania. David’s articles also have been cited by McDonald and Carlson in their Texas Civil Practice treatise, William v. Dorsaneo in the Texas Litigation Guide, and various authors in the Baylor Law ReviewSt. Mary’s Law JournalSouth Texas Law Review and Tennessee Law Review.

Representative Experience

  • Civil Litigation and Appellate Law