Energy Industry (Oil & Gas)/mineral rights transfer
QUESTION: I may have inherited some mineral rights from my father in the Eagle Ford Shale near Cotulla, Texas.
Here is what we do know. We have paperwork on these.
One deed where father bought the land and minerals without mother's signature - 1965.
One deed selling the property without mineral rights, "reserving (the mineral rights) unto ourselves forever", signed by both father and mother in 1968.
One deed showing the selling of the minerals on two lots, with father's signature but without mother's signature in 1974 (the document uses the wording "not joined herein by my wife" and "constitutes no part of our homestead").
A lease memorandum (80's) stating that all the mineral rights in question are leased to an oil company by the people that father sold them to.
We have been approached by a landman saying that my father sold my mother's rights to two pieces of property without her signature, which he could not rightfully do, hence my mother's 50% of the minerals are still mine by default / community property.
We have some conflicting statements here. One is the memorandum showing that all the property was leased, and an oil company landman who says that memorandum may pertain to only 50% of the property. The landman is not sure, and says that the oil company attorneys will look into it, but who knows when that will happen?
We are looking for an attorney to answer the question and if he/she decides that we do own the mineral rights, we would like him/her to challenge the oil company (should they decide that we do not own any mineral rights) and to negotiate a lease if it turns out that we do own mineral rights.
ANSWER: Hello Richard, This is an interesting situation, and I am not sure I have enough facts to give a clear cut answer. When your father acquired the property in 1965 in his name, it was definitely community property. It would have been sole management community property, meaning he could have disposed of the property in his name without the joinder of the spouse, unless it was homestead property. Also, before January 1, 1968, a husband had authority to dispose oh his wife's interest in the community without her joinder in the deed. After January 1, 1968, property that was subject to the joint management and control of both spouses could not be sold without the joinder of both spouses except in limited circumstances.
The issue here is whether the reservation in the 1968 deed, in the names of both your mom and dad, created a situation in which the minerals became subject to the joint management and control of both spouses. Another issue is whether the minerals reservation was effective to reserve any greater rights in your mom to the mineral than she already had as the owner of an equitable interest in the community. Your mom was a stranger to the title of the property, and a reservation of minerals in favor of a stranger to title is not effective. The other side could argue that the reservation in your mom's name would not later prevent your father from selling the minerals without her joining in the deed. The resolution of these issues is fact specific so I would need to have more informatio to have a clearer picture here.
But, let's assume that the minerals became subject to the joint management of the community and that your mon should have joined in the deed but didn't. We can't just assume that the deed is absolutely invalid because you mom may have consented to the disposition of the minerals without her joinder. The passage of nearly 40 years wihtout a complaint works against you here, and these kinds of claims can be time barred. Minerals that might otherwise belong to someone can be lost through adverse possession and ouster. One thing that you need to consider is that if the deed was not effective to convey your mother's interest, it would not have been effective to convey your father's interest, and the deed would have failed. To allow one spouse to transfer just his interest in joint control communit would result in a partition of the community, which is not allowed except in strict conformity with statutory guideleines. There is some old authority that would permit a spouse in this situation to transfer just his community interest but I don't believe it is sound law.
If the deed was invalid as to your mother it would be invalid as to your father, Was therre a general warranty in the deed? Would your pursuit of an interest in the property potentially expose you to any claims that might be made against you under the warranty? These are issues that would need to be thought through before a claim is made to the minerals.
Regardless of the foregoing, the biggest thing going against you is the long passage of time since the minerals were conveyed. To come in now after nearly 40 years to assert an argument that you own either 1/2 or all of the minerals that your dad sold would, in my opinion, be met with skepticism and disfavor by the courts, regardless of the legal merits of the argument.
I can't predict the outcome here because I know just a few facts. But I don't believe that the odds are in your favor based on what I know. You really need to find a lawyer to review your possible claims and advise you as to what you need to do to protect your rights here.
Good luck and let me know if you have any further questions.
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QUESTION: Hello Mr. McCall,
I am Richard's wife. My name is Eveline pronounced like Evelyn. I am so sorry for not answering sooner. We both had the flu.
Thank you very much for your detailed answer.
As Richard mentioned before, my father-in-law bought 80 acres of land and minerals by himself, then he and my mother-in-law together sold all of the land and kept all of the minerals, then he and my mother-in-law together sold 60 acres of minerals, then my father-in-law, by himself, sold the remaining 20 acres of minerals. We have the four deeds involving these sales. We also have a memorandum of lease whereby the latest owner of the last 20 acres leased either the land or the land and the minerals to Chesapeake in April 2010. The total leased was appr. 11,000 acres. The RedSky landman who is researching this thinks we should own 50% of the minerals on the last 20 acres, but of course he is not a lawyer and has referred the case to Chesapeake lawyers.
You stated in your opinion that we needed to find a lawyer to review the case in more detail. Would you be interested in continuing? If so, we could email the deeds to you and you could tell us what you would charge to pursue the case. Or, do you think the better course of action would be to wait until Chesapeake comes back with their decision before we take action?
Again, thank you for your time.
Hello. I do have an interest in helping. Before we do anything, however, I think it would be prudent to wait for Chesapeake's answer on the matter. In the meantime if you want me to look at the deeds you can email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.