One of the advantages to living in the 10 largest counties in the state is that those counties have dedicated probate judges who handle only probate, guardianship, and trust cases. Because of the limited focus of these courts, the judges are generally considered to be expert judges in probate and guardianship issues. Some of these judges are board certified in estate planning and probate, but all of them focus exclusively in this area of law.
By contrast, the other 244 counties in Texas do not have expert probate judges. Rather, those counties have two options for handling probate and guardianship cases. In the larger half of those counties, the cases are handled by the County Court at Law judge, who is required to be an attorney. Those courts handle probate and guardianship cases, but they also handle civil, criminal, and family cases. So, the judges are not able to specialize in any of these topics, but instead have a general knowledge of these areas of the law. In the small half of the counties, the probate and guardianship cases are handled by the County Judge, who is not required to be an attorney. F+B has been involved in cases where the County Judge was a professional photographer, an engineer, a farmer, etc. In those cases where probate and guardianships are being handled by judges with no law degree, it can be incredibly difficult for litigants in these courts to obtain good rulings on contested issues.
In the small counties when a probate or guardianship case becomes contested, the parties have the right to request the assignment of a probate judge from one of the 10 larger counties. In those cases, the probate judge will travel to the small county and handle the probate or guardianship case in those counties as if they were being handled in the judge’s home county. Exercising this right provides litigants a better chance to have cases decided with more expert decisions. F+B represents clients all over the state of Texas, and we routinely exercises the option of having an expert probate judge assigned to hear cases on behalf of our clients. This option confers a significant benefit on our clients, and this is an example of F+B’s mastery of the options available to our clients.