The probate courts will often hold funds in its registry. The probate court has limited jurisdiction over cases. Given this limited jurisdiction, does it lose power over funds in its register after time has passed by? The court addresses this in Estate of Fells, No. 09-17-00487-CV (Ct. App.–9th Dist [Beaumont] 2019).
Facts & Procedural History
This case involves a probate dispute. The case involves the step-mother’s estate. The estate owned an interest in real estate. The step-son also owned an interest in the real estate.
An independent administration was started for the step-mother’s estate. The step-son then sued the executor for the step-mother’s estate. He asked the court to partition the real property, to award him back rent collected from tenants for the property, and for taxes he paid for the property.
The probate court largely sided with the step-son. It ordered the real estate to be sold and the proceeds to be paid 75 percent to the step-son and 25 percent to be paid into the probate court register. The probate court awarded the step-son back rents and taxes.
The real estate sold a year later and the title company paid 25 percent of the proceeds to the court registry. The court ordered these funds be distributed to the step-son, which the estate challenged. This challenge was the subject of the court opinion.
The question for raised by the probate attorneys on appeal was whether the probate court or the independent administrator had the power to determine how the funds would be distributed or used.
Independent Administration, Generally
Texas law allows for independent administrations. With independent administrations, the executor is allowed to handle most of the actions to carryout the probate without the court’s involvement. This is different than dependent administrations, which require court involvement to make most decisions.
The Texas Estates Code grants broad powers to the independent administrator.
The Probate Court’s Power Over Funds
The court has jurisdiction over probate disputes. The probate court has final say in probate matters (at the trial court level). It has the power to remove the independent administrator, for example.
But the probate court’s jurisdiction ends after it enters its order in the case. One might think this allows the independent administrator to take over and manage the probate estate guided only by Texas law. That is what the executor argued in this case.
Probate Court Has Continuing Jurisdiction Over Funds
The appeals court considered whether the probate court had jurisdiction over the funds in the court’s register. It noted that the court did not have the authority to modify its original order as the time for doing so had passed. But reading the order, the appeals court concluded that the probate court’s direction for payment of the funds was consistent with the prior order. So the appeals court, allowed the probate court to disperse funds as it saw fit over and above the independent administrator’s objections.
The takeaway is that the probate court has broad powers over monies deposited to its register. This power continues until the funds are fully distributed, which may not happen for years or even decades later. If a party finds this unacceptable, they need to challenge the original probate court order that deposited the funds into the court register. This is the only way to ensure that the probate court does not disburse funds contrary to the parties wishes.