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Estate of Maupin

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

July 25, 2019

ESTATE OF JANET AMANDA MAUPIN, DECEASED

          On appeal from Probate Court No. 1 of Travis County, Texas.

          Before Justices Benavides, Hinojosa, and Perkes

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GREGORY T. PERKES JUSTICE

         Patrick Evan Maupin (Patrick) appeals the trial court's order admitting his wife's will to probate as a muniment of title. See Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 31.001. Patrick argues that the trial court erred when it enforced a local rule prohibiting individuals acting pro se from administering estates and denied his pro se application for letters testamentary, instead issuing sua sponte a muniment of title. We affirm.[1]

         I. Background

         Janet Amanda Maupin (Janet) died on June 22, 2017, at her home in Travis County, Texas. Janet left a self-proved will dated November 28, 1988. The will named Patrick as independent executor and sole beneficiary. On July 11, Patrick filed an application pro se to probate Janet's will and issue letters testamentary.

         On August 7, the trial court held a hearing. Patrick appeared unrepresented and provided proof of Janet's death and residency in Travis County. When asked by the trial court why an administration was necessary, Patrick stated there were "a few assets" located out of state, "some balances on some accounts and credit cards and things," and "also a possible cause of action."

         Pursuant to the Travis County Probate Court's pro se policy, [2] the court informed Patrick that he would need an attorney in order to apply for letters testamentary. In the interim, the trial court signed an order admitting the will to probate as a muniment of title sua sponte. The court decreed, in relevant part, as follows:

that all of the necessary proof required for the probate of such will has been made; that such Will is entitled to probate; that there are no unpaid debts owing by this Estate, exclusive of any debt secured by liens on real estate; that there is no necessity for administration of this estate . . . .

         Patrick appealed.

         II. Applicable Law and Analysis

         A trial court's ruling on a probate application is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. In re Estate of Gaines, 262 S.W.3d 50, 55 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, no pet.). A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily, unreasonably, or without regard to guiding legal principles. Elliott v. Weatherman, 396 S.W.3d 224, 228 (Tex. App.-Austin 2013, no pet.). A trial court, however, does not abuse its discretion in complying with a local rule that has not been previously challenged or found to contradict the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 3a(1); see also Kenley v. Quintana Petroleum Corp., 931 S.W.2d 318, 320-21 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1996, writ denied).

         Generally, if an independent executor named in a will comes forward within the statutory period for probating a will, offers it for probate, and applies for letters testamentary, the court has no discretionary power to refuse to issue letters to the named executor unless he is otherwise disqualified under the provisions set out in the Texas Estates Code. See Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 304.003; see also Alford v. Alford, 601 S.W.2d 408, 410 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1980, no writ).

         Appellant's primary contention on appeal is that the trial court abused its discretion when the court, in accordance with its local rules, denied his application for letters testamentary based on his pro se status. See Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 257.001. Specifically, Patrick argues that the court's policy is invalid under Rule 3a(1)[3] of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure because it violates his right to self-representation under Rule 7. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 7; see also Ex parte Shaffer,649 S.W.2d 300, ...


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