Prof. Helge Drafts New Probate Law

October 7, 2015

Texas A&M Law Prof. Terri HelgeTexas A&M University School of Law Professor Terri Helge authored the initial draft of a new subchapter to Chapter 255 of the Texas Estates Code that was enacted by the legislature and became effective as of Sept. 1.

Helge is a member of the Decedent’s Estates Committee of the Real Estate, Property & Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas which prepared and finalized the new subchapter of Chapter 255 (Subchapter J), “Construction and Interpretation of Wills.”

Helge said this new statute changes “long-standing” Texas law, which prevented courts from reforming clear and unambiguous wills to reflect the testator’s intent.

“The prior rule prevented courts from reforming wills even if there was clear evidence of a scrivener’s error in drafting the will,” she said. “Similarly, the court could not reform a will even if the reform was necessary to accomplish tax savings desired by the testator or to ensure that property left to a special needs beneficiary did not disrupt the beneficiary’s eligibility for government assistance programs.”

The new law will allow courts to modify wills when necessary to better reflect the testator’s intent, she said.

“This change in the law will help to further, rather than to frustrate, the intention of testators when, as sometimes happens, certain language in their wills is clearly the product of a mistake made by the drafting attorney,” said Stephen Alton, professor and Associate Dean for Evening Division Programs.

“[Helge] is to be applauded for putting theory into practice for the public’s benefit,” Alton said.

- Article by Jennifer Nassar, Communications Specialist, Texas A&M University School of Law