In McDaniel v. Meador, parties sued for declaratory relief regarding whether a granddaughter was a beneficiary of a will. No. 01-18-00041-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 1315 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] February 21, 2019, no pet. history). The will stated that the testator left her estate: “(a) To those of my children (JASPER “LEE” MCDANIEL, JR., AND ANDREW DOUGLAS MCDANIEL) who survive me and to the issue who survive me of those of my children who shall not survive me, in equal shares per stirpes.” Id. It also provided that if no issued survived her then she gave her estate to those who would take if the testator died intestate. One son predeceased the grandmother, and the son’s daughter, the granddaughter, claimed to be a beneficiary and entitled to a third of the estate. The trial court determined that the granddaughter was a beneficiary and was entitled to a third of the grandmother’s estate. The granddaughter’s loving uncles appealed.

The court of appeals described the rules for construing a will:

“The cardinal rule for construing a will is to ascertain the true intent of the [testatrix] as expressed in the will.” The “objective in construing a will is to discern and effectuate the testatrix’s intent as reflected in the instrument as a whole.” We ascertain the testatrix’s intent from the language within the four corners of the will. Courts “determine intent by construing the instrument holistically and by harmonizing any apparent conflicts or inconsistencies in the language.” We must focus on the meaning of the words the testatrix actually used rather than speculate about what she may have intended to write.

Id. The uncles contended that, because they survived the testator, the will designates only them as the beneficiaries of the residuary estate. The court of appeals disagreed:

When viewed holistically and harmonizing any apparent conflicts, we agree with Mandy that Frances did not intend to limit the term “children” to Jasper and Andrew in the second beneficiary clause… Frances defined who her children were in the opening provision of the Will, listing all three of her children: Jasper, James, and Andrew. By way of the parenthetical, Frances, at most, expressed her intent that she did not want James to be a beneficiary should he survive her. However, that same limitation was not placed on the term “children” in the second beneficiary clause to indicate that Frances did not intend the term “children” to include James in accordance with the definition in the Will’s opening paragraph. The Will contains no other indication that Frances intended to disinherit her granddaughter, Mandy, if James predeceased Frances… Even when given its ordinary meaning, the term “children” would also include James. And, under well-established rules of probate law, James would also be included as one of Frances’s children. The only place in the Will indicating that the “children” was intended to have a meaning different than the meaning ascribed in the opening paragraph or under the common, ordinary definition is the first beneficiary clause. Further, defining the term “children” in the second beneficiary clause to exclude James from that definition, and as a result exclude Mandy from being a beneficiary, would give rise to a potential conflict with Paragraph 2(b), which provides, “If no issue of mine survives me, I give my residuary estate to those who would take from me as if I were then to die-without a will . . . .” Paragraph 2(b) makes no exception for Frances’s issue descending through James. Thus, we read Paragraph 2(b) to affirm that Frances intended Mandy to be a beneficiary if she survived Frances.

Id. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment for the granddaughter.

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of David Fowler Johnson David Fowler Johnson

[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…

[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