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Welcome to the Texas Probate Web Site, your source for information on estate planning, probate and trust law in Texas.  This site is owned and maintained by Glenn Karisch of The Karisch Law Firm, PLLC, of Austin, Texas.  For older information, visit the legacy site at texasprobate.net.
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Tuesday
Mar012011

Ad litem fees and attorneys' fees in guardianships: who pays?

Who should pay attorney ad litem fees, guardian ad litem fees, the applicant's attorneys' fees and other costs when someone applies for the creation of a guardianship? Three bills now pending in the Texas Legislature take different approaches.

Jane Nelson, Author of SB 220Under Section 665A of the Texas Probate Code, the proposed ward's estate is charged with attorney ad litem fees, guardian ad litem fees and other costs -- whether or not the application for appointment of a guardian is successful -- unless his or her estate is insufficient to pay those fees and costs, in which case the county bears the expense. 

Under Section 665B, if a guardianship or management trust is created, the court may order that any applicant's attorneys' fees be paid from the ward's estate, or from the county treasury, if the court finds that the applicant acting in good faith and for just cause.

Is it fair that the ward's or the proposed ward's estate is required to pay the costs of the attorney ad litem or guardian ad litem? Are there times when another party should have to bear those expenses? Should the county treasury be stuck with ad litem fees and costs and the applicant's attorneys' fees if the proposed ward's estate is insufficient to pay them? 

Chris Harris, Author of SB 286SB 286 would add this sentence to Section 665A: "The court may allocate attorney's fees taxed as costs under this section among the parties as the court finds is fair and just." This bill, authored by Sen. Chris Harris (R-Arlington), would allow the judge to make another party pay the costs of attorneys ad litem, guardians ad litem, interpreters, etc., if it is "fair and just" to do so. Section 665B is amended to permit the applicant's attorneys' fees to be allocated among the parties to the guardianship proceeding "as the court finds is fair and just," so long as a guardianship or management trust is created. SB 286 also requires ad litem fees under Section 665A and the applicant's attorneys' fees under Section 665B to be set in an amount which is "fair and just."

SB 220 takes a similar approach.  This bill, authored by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), amends Section 665A to permit the court to "allocate amounts taxed as costs under this section among the parties as the court finds is just and equitable." It provides that, if the proposed ward's estate is unable to pay "the costs allocated to the proposed ward," the county is responsible for those costs. SB 220 also amends Section 665B to permit the applicant's attorneys' fees to be "allocated as the court finds is just and equitable," so long as the court creates a guardianship or management trust. 

Surely if it is "fair and just" to allocate costs and fees to a party under SB 286, it also will be "just and equitable" to do so under SB 220. Perhaps the bills could be reconciled so that costs and fees are allocated if it is "fair, just and equitable" to do so.

Will Hartnett, Author of HB 1325HB 1325 gives the court less authority to charge others with ad litem fees. This bill, authored by Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), would add subsection (b) to Section 665A: "If the proposed ward's assets are insufficient to pay for the cost of an attorney ad litem appointed under this chapter, the court may order the applicant in the guardianship proceeding to pay that cost." A similar change to Section 669 would provide the same treatment for guardian ad litem fees.

HB 1325 would allow the court to relieve the county treasury of the obligation to pay an attorney ad litem or guardian ad litem if the proposed ward's estate was unable to bear that cost. It would not permit assessing these costs against the applicant or other parties if the proposed ward's estate is able to bear them. The authority of the court to assess costs and the applicant's attorney's fees in SB 220 and SB 286 does not depend on whether or not the proposed ward is unable to pay those costs and fees.

Some judges have wanted the power to assess costs and fees in guardianships against litigants whose conduct demonstrates that they should bear them. SB 220 and SB 286 give them that authority. HB 1325 does not.

Monday
Feb282011

Case Update -- Jarvis v. Feild

Jarvis v. Feild, 327 S.W.3d 918 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2010, no pet. h.).

ESTATE ADMINISTRATION -- Venue


Litigant objected to the court’s venue to probate a will.  Because Litigant did not object until Litigant appealed the admission of the will to probate, the court held that she waived her venue argument.

Moral:  Objections to venue should be timely filed or else they will be deemed waived.

ESTATE ADMINISTRATION -- Inventory


Litigant appealed asserting that an approved inventory was incomplete and misstated the value of the listed property.  However, her appeal did not specifically indicate she was appealing the inventory order but rather objected to the approval of the account for final settlement which the court issued many months later.  Litigant argued that the two orders were linked so the appeal of the account for final settlement automatically appealed the approval of the inventory.  Although there was no support for Litigant’s argument, the court decided to review the inventory approval because appellate issues should be liberally construed so the right to appeal is not lost.  After examining the evidence, the court determined that the trial court did not err in approving the inventory.

Moral:  A person dissatisfied with the court’s approval of an inventory should take action in a timely manner and clearly indicate the court order to which the person is objecting.

For summaries of other recent Texas cases, please follow this link: http://www.professorbeyer.com/Case_Summaries/Texas_Case_Summaries.htm

Gerry W. Beyer
Governor Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law
Texas Tech University School of Law
1802 Hartford St.
Lubbock, TX 79409-0004
voice (806) 742-3990, ext. 302
fax (978) 285-7941
e-mail gwb@professorbeyer.com
web http://www.ProfessorBeyer.com
blog http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/
SSRN (articles) http://ssrn.com/author=461383 
Twitter Gerry_Beyer 

Monday
Feb282011

Case Update -- In re Guetersloh

In re Guetersloh, 326 S.W.3d 737 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2010, no pet. h.).

TRUSTS -- Pro Se


Trustee attempted to represent himself pro se, that is, without an attorney, in both his capacity as a trustee and in his individual capacity.  The appellate court held that Trustee had no right to proceed pro se in his representative (trustee) capacity but could proceed without an attorney with regard to claims in his individual capacity.

The court explained that allowing Trustee to proceed pro se in his representative capacity would be the unauthorized practice of law.  The court stated that “if a non-attorney trustee appears in court on behalf of the trust, he or she necessarily represents the interests of others, which amounts to the unauthorized practice of law.”  The court relied on Steele v. McDonald, 202 S.W.3d 926 (Tex. App.—Waco 2006, no pet.) in which the court held that a non-lawyer may not appear pro se in the capacity as an estate’s independent executor.

Moral:  A trustee who is not an attorney may not appear in court pro se in the trustee’s representative capacity.

For summaries of other recent Texas cases, please follow this link:http://www.professorbeyer.com/Case_Summaries/Texas_Case_Summaries.htm.

Gerry W. Beyer
Governor Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law
Texas Tech University School of Law
1802 Hartford St.
Lubbock, TX 79409-0004
voice (806) 742-3990, ext. 302
fax (978) 285-7941
e-mail gwb@professorbeyer.com
web http://www.ProfessorBeyer.com
blog http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/
SSRN (articles) http://ssrn.com/author=461383 
Twitter Gerry_Beyer

Monday
Feb282011

Case Update -- In re Hudson

In re Hudson, 325 S.W.3d 811 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2010, no pet. h.).

ESTATE ADMINISTRATION -- Appeal -- Admitting Will to Probate and Granting Independent Administration

Will Contestant requested a jury trial.  However, the trial court heard the application without a jury and over Contestant’s objection.  The court then admitted the testator’s will to probate and issued an order granting independent administration.  Contestant then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus.

The appellate court denied the petition because Contestant has an adequate remedy on appeal.  The court held that an order admitting a will to probate and granting an independent administration was a final order and thus appealable.

Moral:  An order admitting a will to probate and granting independent administration is a final order which a dissatisfied person may appeal.

For summaries of other recent Texas cases, please follow this link: http://www.professorbeyer.com/Case_Summaries/Texas_Case_Summaries.htm.

Gerry W. Beyer
Governor Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law
Texas Tech University School of Law
1802 Hartford St.
Lubbock, TX 79409-0004
voice (806) 742-3990, ext. 302
fax (978) 285-7941
e-mail gwb@professorbeyer.com
web http://www.ProfessorBeyer.com
blog http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/
SSRN (articles) http://ssrn.com/author=461383 
Twitter Gerry_Beyer

Monday
Feb282011

REPTL bills would make changes to trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney

Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) filed three bills supported by the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas Friday.

The most significant is HB 1858, which is a new Durable Power of Attorney Act for Texas.  It would replace the current statutory durable power of attorney form for a new form with a disclosure statement and places for the principal to specify if he wants the agent to be able to create, revoke amend trusts; make gifts; create or change rights of survivorship; create or change beneficiary designations; and waive the principal's right to be a beneficiary of a joint and survivor annuity.  Most of the changes are based on the new Uniform Power of Attorney Act adopted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 2006.  It replaced the old Uniform Durable Power of Attorney Act upon which Texas's current power of attorney statutes are based.  The new act is more specific about the agent's duties and responsibilities.

Will Hartnett, Author of HB 1835, HB 1837 and HB 1858HB 1837 would make numerous changes to Texas's guardianship statutes, including replacing the current 5% of income, 5% of disbursements method of determining guardianship compensation with a "reasonable compensation" standard. It also would permit a person with a physical disability only eligible to apply for the creation of a guardianship management trust (867 Trust).

HB 1835 makes mostly minor and technical changes to the Texas Trust Code. One change of significance to persons handling estates of 2010 decedents is an extension of the 9-month deadline for disclaimers to match the one in the 2010 tax act.

Jose Rodriguez, Author of SB 1192, SB 1196, SB 1197 and SB 1198Another REPTL bill -- making changes affecting decedents' estates -- is expected but has not yet been filed.

Update: On March 2, 2011, Rep. Hartnett filed HB 2046, which is REPTL's decedent's estates bill. Sen. Jose Rodriquez (D-El Paso), filed identical REPTL bills in the Senate on March 4, 2011:

  • SB 1192 -- REPTL power of attorney bill.
  • SB 1196 -- REPTL guardianship bill.
  • SB 1197 -- REPTL trust bill.
  • SB 1198 -- REPTL decedents' estates bill.