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March 18, 2016

This week the Texas Supreme Court issued one opinion and no grants. In the single opinion released this week, the Texas Supreme Court addressed contract interpretation in the context of a probate instrument.

Elaine Stephens v. Brandon Scott Beard, et al.; No. 14-0406:

This case presented the issue of whether the death of a man who killed his wife then shot himself and died two hours later constitutes a “common disaster” under the terms of the spouses’ wills.

The Court of Appeals held that the homicide-suicide was a “common disaster” as the deaths of the spouses arose out of the same set of circumstances.

The Texas Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and held that the legal definition of “common disaster” – and the plain language of each spouse’s will – invoked the Simultaneous Death Act only “under circumstances making it impossible to determine who died first;” therefore, because it is clear that the wife died two hours before the husband, they did not die in a “common disaster” and the Simultaneous Death Act was not invoked.

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