Counties in Texas have special courts set up to handle probate cases, where Wills are validated or property is passed upon a person’s death. Many of these courts have limited jurisdiction to hear certain types of cases. In this article we will discuss probate courts in Travis County, Texas. Austin probate lawyer Farren Sheehan can help answer questions and assist with probate proceedings in Travis County Probate Court.
The Travis County Probate Court is a statutory probate court headed by an elected judge. The current judge sitting in Travis County Probate Court #1 is the Honorable Guy Herman. The probate court is also served by Associate Judge Dan Prashner.
The court is located at the Travis County Courthouse in downtown Austin, Texas. The probate court has a number of staff members assisting the judges, including a court coordinator, attorney law clerks and investigators, legal assistants and social workers, and other staff.
In general, the probate court probates the Wills of deceased persons, declares the heirs of deceased persons who die without a Will, establishes guardianships for incapacitated persons and minors, supervises court-ordered involuntary mental health commitments, and administers all eminent domain cases initiated in Travis County.
The probate court also has jurisdiction to hear lawsuits related to an estate of a decedent or ward as well as actions by or against a personal representative of a decedent’s or ward’s estate. These ancillary estate cases may cover a wide range of topics, such as products liability, fiduciary litigation, medical malpractice, or family law.
While it is always a good idea to have legal counsel, in general under Texas law a person does not have to have an attorney file papers or represent him or her in Travis County probate court. If a person chooses to represent himself or herself in court, he or she is considered a “pro se” or “self-represented” litigant. However, this general rule does not apply to most probate matters because a pro se individual is only allowed to represent his or her own interests, and because most probate matters also involve the interests of a third party (that is, the Estate of the deceased person themselves), pro se applicants are not allowed to represent the interests of the Estate of or other people generally. Representing the interests of individuals or entities other than yourself or your own is considered unauthorized practice of law and may subject the individual to significant civil and criminal liability.
The only time a pro se applicant may proceed in court is when truly representing only him or herself. A pro se litigant may not represent anyone else but him or herself. Texas law requires that only licensed attorneys may represent the interests of other individuals or entities, including guardianship wards (such as minors or incompetent persons) and probate estates.
One need not be a lawyer to serve as an executor, administrator, or guardian. However, an executor, administrator, or guardian must be represented by a lawyer. This is because an executor of a decedent’s estate represents the interests of beneficiaries and creditors, not just himself or herself. The responsibility to act for the benefit of another is known as a fiduciary relationship, and gives rise to certain legal obligations and responsibilities that require legal expertise. Therefore, individuals applying for letters testamentary, letters of administration, determinations of heirship, and guardianships of the person or estate must be represented by a licensed attorney.
Probate lawyers provide a great deal of legal guidance and assistance to their clients. Probate lawyers will determine what method of probate or guardianship is appropriate in your particular case, draft necessary paperwork and legal pleadings, and advise their clients about the ongoing responsibilities of a fiduciary. If you are an executor to a Will, the probate attorney that you hire represents you in your capacity as executor and assists you in representing those for whom you are responsible.
Farren Sheehan in the Austin area is a licensed attorney familiar with the court procedures in the Travis County Probate Court and is available to assist you with any probate matters in Travis County. Call the office of Sheehan Law, PLLC with any questions you have regarding probate in Travis County, Austin, Pflugerville, Round Rock, or Cedar Park and we will be happy to set up a consultation to discuss.
If you have any questions about real estate in Texas probate or anything else regarding probate law, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone at (512) 355-0155 for an initial consultation. Other contact information is listed in the upper right-hand area of this page, and a contact form is also available on our contact page.