Hailey v. Siglar, 194 S.W.3d 74 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2006, pet. denied).

Estate Administration


District Court


Daughter transferred funds from Father’s account to her own account one month before Father signed a durable power of attorney naming Daughter as her agent. After Father’s death, a statutory county court exercising probate jurisdiction appointed Son as the independent executor of Father’s estate. Shortly thereafter, Son filed suit in district court to recover the pre-power of attorney transferred funds from Daughter. Son prevailed in this action and Daughter appealed.

The appellate court vacated the district court’s judgment and dismissed the case without prejudice because the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The court rejected Son’s arguments that the district court had jurisdiction. Son asserted that the amount in controversy exceeded the amount over which the statutory county court would have jurisdiction. The court explained that the Texas Supreme Court had decided decades ago that “[t]he monetary limitations on a statutory county court’s jurisdiction in civil cases do not limit its probate jurisdiction.” See English v. Cobb, 593 S.W.2d 674, 675 (Tex. 1979).

The court then discussed the application of Probate Code § 5 as it was constituted at the time of this case. The county court at law had jurisdiction over Father's estate and all matters incident to the estate. Probate Code § 5A(a) includes “all claims by * * * an estate” within the definition of incident to the estate as it applies to county courts at law. Son’s attempt to recover funds from Daughter was a claim by an estate and thus the county court at law had jurisdiction.

The court then examined former Probate Code § 5(a) (repealed in 2003) which provided that the district court has “original control and jurisdiction over executors * * * under such regulations as may be prescribed by law.” The court conducted a detailed analysis of the Texas Supreme Court case of Bailey v. Cherokee County Appraisal District, 862 S.W.2d 581 (Tex. 1993), and lower court cases interpreting the opinion. The court recognized the confusion between whether a county court at law has exclusive or merely dominant jurisdiction in matters incident to an estate. The court held that the “sounder reading” of the Bailey opinion is that “the county court at law is vested with exclusive jurisdiction.” Hailey at 79.

Moral: The court provided its own recommendation: “We suggest that the Legislature look seriously at the complicated and overlapping trial court jurisdictional requirements in this state and enact reforms to make jurisdictional requirements uniform and understandable.” Hailey at 82.