Probate is a process where a court or administrative body oversees the administration of a person’s estate upon that person’s death. A testator is a person who drafts a will. Once the testator dies, the law refers to that person as a decedent. In Texas, the executor of a will must file for probate in the court that has jurisdiction to hear probate matters, which depends on where the decedent resided.
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Constitutional County Courts
Texas has 254 political subdivisions within the state, which are referred to as counties. Each county has a constitutional county court. These courts preside over Class A and Class B misdemeanors and civil matters. Generally, these courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate probate matters for decedents who resided within the county. Each county only has a single constitutional county court. The constitutional county courts have original jurisdiction to hear probate matters in most counties. Original jurisdiction means that the court has the authority to hear the case for the first time.
County Courts at Law
In larger counties, the legislature created county courts at law in addition to the single constitutional county court to help administer justice. County courts at law typically have concurrent jurisdiction with county constitutional and district courts. That means county courts can typically have jurisdiction over the same types of cases districts courts and county constitutional courts do. In some counties, probate matters may be brought to county courts at law.
Statutory Probate Courts
Under the Texas Constitution, the State Legislature has the authority to grant jurisdiction to Texas courts over probate. The legislature has granted authority to Statutory Probate Courts located in 10 of the 15 largest metropolitan areas. For example, Harris County -- where Houston is located -- has specially designated Probate Courts that adjudicate probate matters. In counties that have statutory probate courts, wills should be filed in these courts.
The legislature has granted some district courts in Texas jurisdiction to adjudicate probate matters. District courts in Texas are state trial courts that possess general jurisdiction. Some district courts cover a single county, while others cover multiple counties. Some large counties have multiple district courts. District court jurisdiction varies from county to county. If no statutory probate court exists in the county, district courts have jurisdiction over probate matters.
Where to file a probate will in Texas depends largely on which county the decedent resided in. The Texas court system is complex, with multiple levels of courts with varying jurisdictions. It's best to contact a qualified attorney licensed to practice law in Texas to find out how the facts of your situation apply to probate court jurisdiction in Texas. This article should not be construed as legal advice.