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Who And Where: Interested Persons And Venue

In addressing either probate, trust or guardianship litigation matters, two issues must be answered before any litigation can begin — 1) who are the appropriate parties to participate in the litigation, and 2) which court is the appropriate venue to pursue the litigation.

Who Is An “Interested Person” In Probate, Trust, or  Guardianship Litigation?

Before any litigation can proceed, the Court must determine that the parties to the litigation have appropriate “standing” to participate.  Standing means that the person bringing the litigation is somehow affected by the litigation.  As a general rule, those with proper standing in probate, trust, and guardianship litigation are the people directly affected by the estate, the trust, or the guardianship.  In the case of probate estates, those with standing are generally the family members, those named under the Will, or those who have some sort of claim against the Estate.  In a guardianship, those with standing are generally the family members of the incapacitated person and any other person who is concerned for the welfare of the incapacitated person.  In a trust, those with standing are generally the person who created the trust, the trustee, and the beneficiaries of the trust.  If someone has standing, then they can properly bring litigation in a probate, guardianship, or trust matter.

What Court Handles Probate, Trust & Guardianship Cases In Texas?

Because Texas is a very diverse state, three different types of courts can actually hear probate, trust, or guardianship matters. In the larger counties (Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, etc.), the Texas Legislature has created specialty probate courts. These courts are specially designated to hear only probate, guardianship, and trust cases. As a result, these courts are very specialized in the work that they do, which hopefully ensures the quality of the decisions and the efficiency with which these courts accomplish their tasks.

What Courts Hear Cases In Counties Without A Probate Court?

In smaller counties, the county might have a County Court-at-Law, which is also a court created by the Legislature to hear cases. While these courts also have judges who are lawyers, these courts not only hear probate and guardianship matters, but they also hear criminal cases, civil cases, etc.  As a result, these courts are not as specialized in the probate, guardianship and trust arena.

In those counties that do not have either a specialty probate court or a County Court-at-Law, those counties have a Constitutional County Court that hears probate matters. Unlike the specialty probate courts and the Courts-at-Law, the Constitutional County Court is created by the Texas Constitution, and it has very general authority to hear a wide variety of cases. The Judge of a Constitutional County Court does not have to be an attorney, which can sometimes cause problems if the case becomes overly complex.

What County Do You File A Probate, Trust, or Guardianship Case In?

Texas law requires that all lawsuits be filed in the county of proper “venue.”  In general, a county is a proper venue if it has some connection to the litigation.  In particular, venue related to probate, guardianship, and trust cases is determined by specific rules in the Texas Estates Code and the Texas Trust Code.  For instance, probate litigation is generally filed in the county in which the deceased person resided at the time of their death.  Likewise, a guardianship case is generally filed in the county in which the incapacitated person lives at the time that the case is filed.  Finally, a trust litigation case is generally filed in the county in which the trustee resides or in which the trustee operates the trust in Texas.  If a probate, guardianship, or trust litigation case is filed in a county for which venue is not proper, any one of the parties can seek to have the case transferred to a proper venue.

File A Probate, Trust or Guardianship Litigation Case In Texas

If you plan to file a probate, Trust, or guardianship litigation case in Texas, or you have questions about who would be an interested person or what county the case should be filed, talk to an attorney experienced in this area of law. Ford + Bergner LLP attorneys are highly experienced with trust, guardianship and probate litigation and would be glad to help with your case. Contact us via email or call 713-352-0937 to protect your interests.