Texas Lawyers Blog


The Texas Lawyers Blog provides useful information on the law and Texas lawyers. For more information on this Blog or a legal topic, please feel free to submit an inquiry or send an e-mail message to blog@texaslawyers.com

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Texas Oil Royalty Inheritance Probate Lawsuits, Trust Lawsuits, and Intestate Proceedings

Texas Oil Royalty Inheritance Lawsuits, Texas Mineral Interest Probate Lawsuits, Texas Mineral Interest & Oil Royalty Trustee Fraud Lawsuits, and Texas Oil and Gas Probate Lawsuits

Texas is a rich state for oil and gas production.  Since the Lucas No. 1 started spurting gas and oil on January 10, 1901, many gushers and rich oil wells have made oil and gas a main part of the Texas economy.  Throughout the 20th Century, the Texas economy moved from its rural, agricultural roots into the petroleum and industrial age.  Many Texas families became extremely wealthy through their oil royalties and mineral interests making millions and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Currently, about 2/3 of the 254 counties in Texas produce oil and there are vast amounts of wealth being made on the hundreds of millions of barrels of oil and vast amounts of gas that are produced in Texas each year.  Keeping track of who inherits this wealth and who are the rightful beneficiaries of royalties, leasing contracts, and mineral rights can often be complicated as mineral rights and royalty interests don't always transfer with surface rights.  Families and family trust funds can sometime lose vast amounts of wealth when negligent or fraudulent trustees, administrators, guardians, or executors fail to comply with their fiduciary duty.

 Texas Mineral Interest & Oil Royalty Rights can be Complicated to Track and can be Lost if Trustees, Executors, and Guardians Are Not Honest

Historically, land was transferred among owners with the mineral interests and royalty rights co-mingled with the surface rights. In Texas, through originally the power that controlled Texas lands originally held all mineral interests unless specifically granted to someone, the State granted surface land owners mineral rights in their land through constitutional provisions in 1866. 

This transfer made many families rich as the demand for oil and gas has increased from the late 19th Century to the present.  As oil and gas production began and expanded in Texas and throughout the United States, mineral rights started to be viewed and transferred independently of the surface rights.

According to Texas property law, two different forms of rights exist in real property including surface rights and mineral rights. Surface rights refer to any structure erected above the surface or sub-surface structures that do not exceed a certain depth, as well as rights to use all surface property surrounding structures in accordance with state, federal, and local law. Mineral rights refer to mineral substances below a certain depth and the way in which they are preserved, explored or extracted. These mineral substances can include natural gas, oil, or any other substance in common use today that can be mined or otherwise extracted from below the surface.

If mineral rights are severed from the surface rights, the process of separating mineral rights from the surface rights can be confusing and cause wealth to be lost.  In situations where mineral interests have been severed from the surface rights, a new and separate chain of title for the minerals begins and must be kept track of and properly recorded.  Failure to keep track of mineral interests can result in the loss of the mineral interest and loss of oil and gas royalties.

The danger of losing mineral interests including oil and gas royalties is especially dangerous when family trust funds are transferred through trusts.  One of the advantages of a trust is that it can pass property including mineral interests without going through the formal probate process.  Unfortunately, when property passes through a trust instead of the probate process, it can also create opportunities for a dishonest trustee to steal trust property as well as a negligent trustee to lose trust property as there is often less oversight than in the probate process.   

 Texas Mineral Interest Intestate Law, Texas Oil Royal Inheritance Lawsuit, and Texas Real Estate Inheritance Lawsuits & Options?  
Determining who inherits a person's property and possessions under Texas intestate law (died without a Will), often depends on whether the person was married at the time of their death and the relatives that the person leaves behind.  Marriage can be a complicating factor in determining inheritance under Texas law because intestate inheritance is based on the nature of the property as either community property or  separate property as well as the make up of the decedent's family including children and surviving heirs.  For more information on Texas Inheritance of Oil Royalties, Mineral Interests, and Real Estate please go to the following Web Page on Texas Heirship Laws and Determining Heirs when no Valid Will exists.

Texas Mineral Interest Will Probate Law Suits, Texas Oil Royalty Breach of Fiduciary Duty Executor Fraud Lawsuits, and Texas Real Estate Will Lawsuits

After a person dies, the Will and a death certificate need to be filed in the probate court or county court where the decedent resided when they died.  After both the Will and Death Certificate are filed with the proper court, a hearing has to held where the death of the decedent is proven, the Will is to be determined to be valid, and the executor is sworn in and appointed. 

This process is called probate a Will.  It is often helpful to have a probate lawyer assist at the executor at court in proving that the decedent actually died, the Will is valid, and the executor is qualified and able to serve as the executor.  Once the Will is probated and the executor is appointed the probate attorney assists in making sure that proper notices are given to creditors, locating assets, and preparing an inventory which needs to be filed with the court.   For more information on Texas Will Probate Proceedings feel free to go to our web page on Austin Will Probate Lawyer.

Texas Mineral Interest Will Contest Law Suits, Texas Oil Royalty Will Contest Lawsuits, and Texas Real Estate Will Contest Lawsuits
A Will Contest occurs when there is something wrong with a Will.  In some instances the Testator did not have actual "testamentary capacity" or "testamentary intent" to draft a proper Will.  In such a situation the Will is not valid and interested parties including a beneficiary or heir that was disinherited or lost inheritance through the invalid Will can contest the Will as being invalid.  For more information on Will Contests go to our web page on Texas Will Contest Lawsuits.

Texas Real Estate Trust Fraud Lawyer, Texas Mineral Interest Trustee Fraud Lawsuits, and Texas Negligent Trustee Oil Royalty Lawyers (Breach of Fiduciary Duty Lawsuits)
Trustees have a duty to provide an accurate accounting of property that is put in their safekeeping.  Failure of a trustee to prudently invest property or take care of these assets can lead to a breach of fiduciary lawsuit.  Unfortunately, there are trustees that will commit fraud and other wrongful acts to steal money from trusts and rightful beneficiaries.  Some of these banks and other trustees will take money that does not belong to them and treat it as their own.   Whether these negligent or fraudulent trustee are banks, family members, step relatives, or opportunists, it is important to have a Texas Trust Fraud Lawyer that can help seek compensation for the theft or negligent management of Trust Assets.
For more information on Texas Breach of Fiduciary Duty Trustee Lawsuits please go to our web page on Texas Trust Fund Fraud and Trustee Breach of Fiduciary Duty Lawsuits.

Texas Oil Royalty Inheritance Lawsuits, Texas Mineral Interest Probate Lawsuits, Texas Mineral Interest & Oil Royalty Trustee Fraud Lawsuits, and Texas Oil and Gas Probate Lawsuits

For more information on protecting Family Oil Royalty Inheritance or Reclaiming Oil Royal Inheritance, please feel free to go to the following webpage on Texas Oil Royalty Inheritance Lawsuits, Texas Mineral Interest Trustee Fraud Lawsuits, and Texas Real Estate Intestate Proceedings.

Whistleblower Protection Under the Federal False Claims Act and other federal statutes

Whistleblower Protection Laws

Whistleblower protection laws serve to prevent an employer from engaging in retaliatory conduct (making disparaging and defamatory comments, demoting whistleblowers, casting whistleblowers as troublemakers, suspending suspected whistleblowers, reducing or cutting pay, transferring the whistleblower, denying the whistleblower promotions, denying the whistleblower benefits, terminating the whistleblower on false charges, unlawfully releasing personal information about the whistleblower, isolating the whistleblower from other employees or information, and threatening the whistleblower) against an individual that has blown the whistle on fraudulent conduct and unlawful conduct including False Claims Act Lawsuits.

There are a variety of types of whistleblower protection statutes that may apply to a particular whistleblower action.  The main goal of these statutes is to offer protection to heroes and whistleblowers that are strong and brave enough to stand up to corporations and senior executives that are fraudulently stealing from the United States government, state government, or local governments or intentionally violating health and safety laws.   

Whistleblower Protection Under the Federal False Claims Act

The Federal False Claims Act has strong whistleblower protection provisions that protect Qui Tam False Claims Act whistleblowers from retaliatory actions by violators of the Federal False Claims Act.

Under Section 3730(h) of the False Claims Act, "[a]ny employee who is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment by his or her employer because of lawful acts done by the employee on behalf of the employee or others in furtherance of an action under this section, including investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in an action filed or to be filed under this section, shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole. Such relief shall include reinstatement with the same seniority status such employee would have had but for the discrimination, 2 times the amount of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. An employee may bring an action in the appropriate district court of the United States for the relief provided in this subsection."

As such, any employer that discharges, demotes, harasses, or otherwise discriminates against a Federal False Claims Act Whistleblower because of lawful acts by the employee in furtherance of an action under the Federal False Claims Act can be liable to that Federal False Claims Act whistleblower for reinstatement, double back pay, and compensation for any special damages including litigation costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. 

Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 Expanded Whistleblower Protections to Include Subcontractors and Grantees (May 2009)

In May 2009, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 was signed into law which made important amendments to the Federal False Claim Act.  Included in these Amendments, the Act redefines "claim" to include claims submitted "to a contractor, grantee, or other recipient, if the money or property is to be spent or used on the Government's behalf or to advance a Government program or interest."  This language makes explicit the ability of Government and whistleblowers to pursue subcontractors and grantees.  This expansion will create potential liability to health care providers that commit Medicare Fraud and other forms of Health Care Fraud against the United States Government.  It should also extend False Claim Act whistleblower protections to employees of health care providers that are subcontractors receiving Medicare benefits or grantees of federal government grants.

The Act also expands the anti-retaliation provisions from only employees to include "contractors and agents" who "act to stop one or more violations."  This expanded protection could extend to contractors in government-funded managed care plans who take action to stop false reporting or illegal denial of service by the plan.  These expansions to the Federal False Claims Act should increase the number of Federal False Claims Act Lawsuits, allow the Federal Government to crack down on fraud and wasteful spending as well as recoup money that has been fraudulently obtained, and help protect False Claims Act Whistleblowers from unlawful retaliatory actions.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (February 2009)

In February 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed into law which includes significant new whistleblower provisions. Section 1553 of the Act prohibits any private employer or state or local government that receives any funds pursuant to the Act from retaliating against an employee who discloses, internally or externally, information that the employee reasonably believes constitutes evidence of one or more of a number of specified improper uses of stimulus funds, including gross mismanagement of an agency contract or grant, gross waste of covered funds, or an abuse of authority related to the implementation or use of covered funds. Section 1553 establishes procedures and damage remedies that are similar in some ways to those with which many employers are familiar under Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act ("SOX"), but its whistleblower provisions go beyond the whistleblower protections of SOX in several respects.

Whistleblower Protection Laws

For more information on whistleblower protection laws under the Federal False Claims Act and other federal statutes, feel free to go to the following webpage on Federal False Claims Act Whistleblower Protection.