Rules and procedures
1. What applications or motions require a hearing?
Almost every application requires a hearing. The Probate Code generally describes what is required. A verified application for the appointment of a successor independent executor would be appropriate for submission without a hearing, but the general answer to this question is “it depends.”
2. What criteria do you use for granting attorneys’ fees, i.e., is legal assistant, law clerk or other support staff time included?
I do include charges for legal assistant, law clerk or other support staff, since assigning them some of the more routine tasks usually results in a substantial savings to the estate or individual. I follow the general rule “one riot, one ranger” and will not pay for more than one professional at a hearing or conference.
3. What criteria do you use in choosing an ad litem and granting ad litem fees?
I keep a list of those attorneys who are willing to serve and have met the minimum requirements set by either statute or the court. I award reasonable and necessary fees.
An attorney ad litem in a guardianship case where there is no estate will be paid by the county. The standard fee for that type of case is $350.00.
4. When do you regularly have docket call?
All cases are specially set. Will prove-ups are usually set Monday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
5. Do you have any special rules governing courtroom decorum (e.g. addressing the court, opposing counsel or witnesses, requirement that counsel use only podium, approach the witness, taking or passing notes at the counsel table, beverages allowed at the counsel table, attire?)
Attorneys should remained seated and speak into the microphone located on counsel table, even when addressing the court. Do ask for permission to approach the bench or the witness stand. Passing notes should be done discreetly. Given the peculiarities of the acoustics in the King Courtroom, talking at counsel table is done as the speaker’s risk. One never knows who might hear what is said. The only beverage allowed at counsel table is water and you may bring your own, if you wish. Some things just don’t belong in the courtroom, including cell phones, pagers, hats, chewing gum, tank tops, shorts and t-shirts (especially those with inappropriate printed material). Please remind your clients and witnesses of this.
6. What is the preferred procedure for contacting the court or court staff regarding the status of motions? What procedures should be followed to obtain an expedited hearing?
At the end of a hearing, I will either advise when or how the ruling will be made. To obtain an expedited hearing, call Becky Helms. If you are unable to obtain a hearing date, talk to me.
7. When, if ever, do you want a court (courtesy) copy of a document?
I appreciate a copy when the document has been recently filed and may not have made it to the court’s file.
8. Is notice of rulings given by the court in writing?
Notice of rulings is usually done by FAX. Occasionally, I will instruct the attorneys to call in after a particular time.
9. Under what circumstances would you admit a will to probate based upon the testimony of the handling attorney?
If the attorney has personal knowledge of all necessary facts, I will accept testimony from her.
10. Under what circumstances do you not permit extension of time during which to file the Inventory, Appraisement and List of Claims?
I don’t permit extensions in guardianships or dependent administrations.
11. What is your procedure regarding approval and payment of claims in dependent cases?
We try to follow the Probate Code’s rather rigorous and arcane rules!
12. Do you allow telephone conferences for the resolution of motions or any other matters? If so, who arranges them and when are they scheduled?
I do allow telephone conferences. They should be scheduled through the Docket Coordinator, Becky Helms. The person requesting the conference is responsible for originating the call.
13. What is your procedure for continuing trials? How early will you grant/deny a request and how early do you want the request made?
I reluctantly grant motions for continuance. If there is a valid reason for the request, comply with the rules and file your motion as early as possible.
14. What are your procedures for referring cases to alternative dispute resolution? Under what circumstances do you order mediation, when is it ordered, and how is the mediator chosen?
I routinely send out a letter, shortly after all parties are before the court, asking the parties to agree on a mediator. If they are unable to agree, I choose the mediator from a list of mediators who have asked for appointments. I believe that almost every case is appropriate for mediation and depend on those who disagree to file a motion and convince me of the error of my ways.
15. Are there any special practices or procedures lawyers appearing before you should know about?
My pet peeves include lawyers who proudly announce, “I don’t really know what I’m doing,” and those who are just plain unprepared.
16. Any special suggestions, admonitions or recommendations you would make to lawyers appearing before you?
Be prepared. (See #15). Assume I have read your pleadings and that I heard you the first time.
17. If I have questions concerning accountings, inventories or bonds, whom should I contact?
Call my auditor, Steve Foster.
18. Is a beneficiary, creditor, heir, or other interested or disinterested person in a case allowed to call the court to discuss the case?
Absolutely not. The file is public record and may be viewed in the Clerk’s office on the second floor of the Records Building.
19. I have filed an application for determination of heirship in your court. Should I request the appointment of an ad litem or is that something done automatically by the court, and if so, when is it done?
When the published citation is returned to the Probate Court service clerk (it is returned when the published notice has been paid for) the file will be sent to the court for the selection and appointment of an ad litem. All determination of heirship cases require an ad litem. The attorney of record and the ad litem will be notified by copy of the order appointing the ad litem.
20. If I am not an attorney but want to handle a probate case Pro Se, am I permitted to do so in your Court?
Probate Court has strict guidelines it follows in matters filed Pro Se. See the following Notice Requirement for Attorney.
REQUIREMENT FOR ATTORNEY
Consistent with requirements of applicable law, including the statutes prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law, the Dallas County Probate Courts will not permit “Pro Se” litigants to represent estates or other persons in most Probate and Guardianship cases. Named Executors, Administrators or persons applying as such must be represented by legal counsel. Any individual applying for guardianship of persons, estates or both must also be represented by legal counsel. Although the clerk will accept documents for filing, the Court will take no action on the documents unless there is an attorney of record in that case.
Only a licensed attorney may represent a third person or entity in a Judicial proceeding in the State of Texas. In most probate or guardianship cases, an individual applicant is not truly representing only himself; rather he is attempting to represent another person or persons such as beneficiaries, heirs or the estate itself. Unless that individual is a licensed attorney, this constitutes the unauthorized practice of law and will not be allowed by the Court.
There are situations when a person may, without the assistance of the court or court staff, proceed without legal counsel. For example, if the individual is:
1. the sole beneficiary offering a will for probate as a Muniment of Title;
2. a non-corporate creditor of a probate or guardianship estate;
3. a non-corporate party in an ancillary civil action; or
4. other actions at the discretion of the Judge.
In certain cases, a person may open a probate or guardianship proceeding with the assistance of legal counsel and then terminate the employment of that attorney. If this occurs and the court appointed representative fails to comply with all requirements of the Texas Probate Code, that representative will be required to employ legal counsel. It is recommended that a representative have an attorney until the case is closed.
Any questions should be directed to the administrative assistant of the court in which the case is filed.
JUDGE NIKKI DESHAZO JUDGE ROBERT E. PRICE JUDGE MICHAEL MILLER
Tips for Attorneys from Judge Nikki DeShazo
If you do not regularly practice in Probate Court, you owe it to yourself and your clients to have a copy of the Dallas County Probate Practice Manual, available for purchase from the Dallas Bar Association, whose phone number is 214-969-7066.
Each of the three Dallas Probate Courts have slightly different scheduling methods. After verifying what court your case is assigned to, call that Court and schedule your case for hearing.
Do not advise people to “call the court” when they have questions about cases or probate law.
Almost every pleading in Probate Court requires some type of service. Be sure service is completed and is correct in your case. Failure to check on the service of your case is neglectful and may cause delays and unnecessary trips to the court by you and/or your clients.
Be aware of the latest technologies in handling your cases. New technology may save you time and your client money. You may file by E-Filing. Go to www.texasonline.com and click on e-filing documents.
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