Can You Appeal a Probate Decision?

Appealing a probate decision is, in many ways, very different from appealing decisions in ordinary civil cases.  In most civil cases, there is generally only one order or judgment of the court that is subject to appeal.  In probate and guardianships, however, there are numerous orders and judgments that are subject to review by the appeals court.

In the 10 largest counties in Texas, we have specialized probate courts, which generally have judges with specialized training in probate.   The specialized nature of these judges helps to ensure that their rulings are generally more well-reasoned and less likely to be overturned by the appellate court.  In the other 244 counties in Texas, the judges are not specialists in probate and guardianships.  As a result, they more often make mistakes that might lead to review by the Court of appeals.

In cases of unfavorable rulings, or worse, incorrect applications of probate law, you have the right to appeal it. However, it is always important to remember that the filing period is short. In many cases, an appeal must be filed within 20 days after the judgement was signed. Failure to file within the time limit means your case may be dismissed. From here, several factors will be key in your success including the issues presented during the original probate hearing, the nature of the testimony, and the evidence presented during the trial. However, in many cases, victory may depend on the outcomes of prior appeals on similar issues.

The ultimate tool for success, however, is to hire an attorney that can represent you to the best of their abilities. Ford + Bergner LLP has a whole team of appellate lawyers who handle appeals of probate and guardianship cases.  This team is lead by a senior attorney who is Board Certified in Civil Appellate Law and has been involved in numerous appeals of probate and guardianship cases.  If you have a probate or guardianship to challenge, will contest, probate administration contest, removal action, surcharge action, or trust dispute that you need help with, contact us today so we can help you get the best possible outcome.

Probate: The How, What, and Why

The death of a loved one is an extremely difficult time for all family and friends of the deceased. Without the family member alive to state how he/she would like personal property and financial assets distributed, dissolving an estate between children and heirs can be an extremely daunting task. Thankfully, individuals who pass away with a Will put their family in a much easier position: the Will describes how the decedent wants property divided and who he/she would like to oversee the administration process (aka: the Executor). With these major questions answered by the Will, the probate process is significantly less challenging.

Once a loved one does pass away, the primary issue to resolve is finding the original Will. Most individuals keep their original will in a safe deposit box or other secure location with personal documents. In Texas, Executors have up to 4 years from the decedent’s date of death to probate the will. Meeting this statute of limitations is extremely important in order to ensure property and assets are distributed in accordance with the loved one’s wishes.

What do I need to probate a will?

Probate is the formal process of transferring property from the decedent to his/her family and loved ones. Any individual who passes away with assets in his/her name such as a bank account, house, vehicle or boat, or retirement account will require probate. In most states including Texas, the original will is required to begin this process. An experienced attorney can be exceptionally helpful guiding family through the probate process in a way that is compliant with state and federal law.

Why is probate necessary?

Probate is necessary in order to legally transfer financial accounts, vehicles, houses or personal property to other individuals. Without probating an estate within 4 years, the decedent’s final wishes will not be met. This process is also required to ensure assets are distributed in a fair manner and any charitable bequests are fulfilled. Depending on the value of assets in the estate, an attorney may recommend pursuing independent administration, Muniment of Title, or Small Estate Administration. Different methods of probate ensure each estate is administered correctly, in a timely manner, and without burdensome costs.

What if I don’t probate in time?

If a will is not probated within 4 years from the date of death, administration can be chaotic. For example, if a dad dies but the family does nothing, it is extremely difficult to then probate once the mom dies years later. If a will is not probated within 4 years, then the law allows for the Will to be probated as a muniment of title, but that method of probate is not always available.  When a muniment of title is not available, then the Texas laws of intestacy will govern how assets are distributed. This means that regardless of what the decedent wrote in his/her Will, the state law will determine what happens to financial assets and property. It is best to contact an attorney as soon as possible after the death of a loved one in order to meet any legal deadlines and start any necessary probate proceedings.

Anyone who has lost a family member or close friend knows how difficult it can be to handle the emotional stress during a time of grief. Finding an experienced attorney to assist with the probate process can provide you with peace of mind during this tough time. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your family through times of loss.