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Travis County might create a probate court, but where is the money?

Friday, January 20, 2023 by Seth Smalley

Travis County is one of the few large counties in the state with only a single probate court, but it may be adding a new one. The Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a resolution last week to post a public notice explaining the possibility of creating an additional court, as required by the Texas Constitution.

The item will return to the commissioners for final decisions next Tuesday, Jan. 24.

“What we’re asking the court to do today is to approve filing a public notice in the paper that would say that we intend to file legislation seeking the creation of a new probate court,” said Julie Wheeler, intergovernmental relations officer.

“Probate courts oversee the distribution of dead peoples’ assets according to their wills and direct the distribution of dead peoples’ assets if they die without a will,” according to the Legal Information Institute.

Wheeler told commissioners that the creation of a new court constitutionally requires a 30-day notice in the paper ahead of time, adding that “this is a procedural part of filing that bill. Filing the notice will not bind the court to that action.”

County Judge Andy Brown expressed hesitancy over the proposal, saying “we don’t have the budget,” and asked whether the state might pitch in to lessen the burden. “Obviously, we need to figure out how to make it happen. But knowing what the cost is to the county – doesn’t the state pay for some of it?”

Wheeler said the state would pay the judge’s salary, but that “the rest is on the county to provide a facility and everything else that goes with running the court.”

Commissioner Brigid Shea asked Wheeler if the Intergovernmental Relations Office would make the county’s case to the state.

“What I’ve been hearing for a while now is that the probate needs are very large and the process has slowed because we don’t have the capacity,” Shea said.

Wheeler reaffirmed that this step did not bind commissioners to approving a probate court before getting final fiscal details and that publishing the notice doesn’t mean the county must follow through. “It will not bind you to filing a bill on a court if you decide you don’t want to do that.”

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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