Divorced After Death – Marriages Can Be Voided After One Spouse Dies
This is a story about a marriage undone after death. Didn’t know that could happen? Read on.
Billy was a disabled Army veteran who suffered from MS, depression and PTSD. He met Katherine in 2007 when she served as his home health aide. They married on June 1, 2010 (Katherine said they had developed a romantic relationship). Billy died less than three months later.
Billy’s dad was not happy about the marriage. He suspected that Billy did not have the mental capacity to actually consent to the marriage. But he was a realist, and litigation is expensive and lengthy. So as the named executor of Billy’s will, he filed the will for probate, and then he reached a settlement with Katherine, the surviving widow, over Billy’s estate.
Unfortunately for Katherine, she did not turn over all of Billy’s personal belongings as required by the settlement. Even worse for her, Billy’s dad discovered that Billy’s missing belongings were hidden away in the garage of Katherine’s ex-boyfriend.
That set the stage for some major litigation. Billy’s dad declared the settlement breached, and proceeded with an action to declare Billy and Katherine’s marriage void.
It so happens that Texas passed a law in 2009 that allows a marriage to be declared void from the grave.
The 2009 law provides that a court can declare a marriage void if it finds that the deceased did not have the mental capacity to consent to the marriage and to understand the nature of a marriage ceremony (if there was one). The court also has to find that, after the marriage, the deceased never gained the mental capacity to recognize the marriage relationship and never did recognize the marriage relationship.
The lawsuit about Billy and Katherine’s marriage ended up being tried to a jury. The jury got to hear from two doctors about how Billy’s MS was progressive, how he was in chronic pain, how the disease had atrophied his brain, how he had difficulty following conversations and had disorganized thinking. Both doctors testified that Billy did not have the capacity to understand marriage or even the nature of the marriage ceremony.
The jury decided that Billy lacked the mental capacity to consent to marriage, and the judge entered a judgment setting aside the marriage. On August 31, 2016, the San Antonio Court of Appeals agreed.
So far, it is the only recorded Texas appellate decision actually setting aside a marriage under the 2009 statute.