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How Does the Texas Probate Court Work?
Texas Probate Courts are county-level trial courts of record in the Texas judicial system that generally have original jurisdiction over probate, guardianship, and mental health matters. Probate Courts are typically found in populated Texas counties. In the counties where they are located, Texas Probate Courts have original jurisdiction over the following types of cases:
- Matters involving wills and name changes
- Matters involving the administration of estates
- Mental health proceedings
- Matters involving trusts, guardianships, and conservatorships
In some of these cases, the Probate Courts may share jurisdiction with the District Courts and the County Courts.
A Probate Court judge heads the Texas Probate Courts. There are currently 18 Probate Court judges in the Texas judicial system, and these judges are selected through partisan elections. Elections are held in the county where the court is located, and parties that wish to contest in the elections must be at least 25 years of age and have lived in the county for a minimum of two years before the election. In addition to this, before an individual can become a Probate Court judge, the person must be a citizen of the United States licensed to practice law in Texas and has practiced as either a lawyer or a judge for at least five years.
Elected judges serve four-year terms. When there is a vacant judgeship position due to the inability of a Probate Court judge to complete an elected term, the county commissioners of the county where the Probate Court is located will appoint a qualified individual to complete the term. Texas Probate Court judges are statutorily required to elect a presiding judge amongst themselves. This presiding judge is responsible for ensuring the proper management and administration of the Probate Courts’ judicial process. Some responsibilities of the presiding judge include:
- Ensuring the promulgation of the local rules of administration of the Probate Courts under Supreme Court policies and guidelines
- Comparing local rules of the Probate Courts to achieve a uniformity that is practical and consistent with local conditions
- Advising the other Probate Court judges on case flow management practices and auxiliary court services
- Convening and presiding over annual meetings and any other necessary meetings of the Probate Court judges to promote the orderly and efficient administration of the judicial process in the Texas Probate Courts
The presiding judge also has the authority to appoint an assistant presiding judge. The assistant presiding judge aids the presiding judge in performing the duties required of the office. In situations where the presiding judge is unable to perform these duties due to either death, resignation, illness, or any other incapacities, the assistant presiding judge becomes the acting presiding judge until the Probate Court judges elect a replacement.
Probate Court cases in the Texas court system typically take between 30 days to six months. However, in some cases, Probate Court Cases may last for a year or more. This usually happens in matters involving wills and estates where the original will cannot be located or where the will is being contested.
When a Probate Court judge issues a decision, this decision may be appealed at a Texas Court of Appeals by any of the parties involved in the case that is unsatisfied with the decision. In the Texas judicial system, parties that wish to initiate an appeal are required to begin the process not later than 30 days after the trial court’s decision is issued.
Interested members of the public can access records of Texas Probate Courts by contacting the Probate Clerk’s Office, where the case in question was filed. Note that the payment of a fee may be required before copies of these records can be obtained.
There are 18 Probate Courts in the state’s court system. These courts can be contacted with the information provided below: