Harris County Probate Courts

Harris County Probate Courts Information about the Harris County Probate Courts

I’m always delighted to perform wedding ceremonies for couples especially for members in our armed services. Thank you f...
01/07/2024

I’m always delighted to perform wedding ceremonies for couples especially for members in our armed services. Thank you for the opportunity.

11/11/2023

46 years ago today (11/11/77) I was sworn in as a Texas lawyer. Chief Justice Greenhill led a group swearing in at the State Capitol, and I was one of many to sit at the desks of state legislators. In 1977, three of my dear friends from UH and TSU were in the House.

My father sat in the gallery. He said something about how far we had come, something that my incredible sons, Geoffrey and Noah, and I have expanded upon in recent years, but the sentiment remains.

My grandfather fled pogroms and tyranny and the Czar in Russia to come to this country. He sold apples. And so my father because of the war went back to Europe, to help vanquish the pogroms and tyranny that continues to exist in various forms even now.

My father was a veteran of the Second World War. He enlisted after Pearl Harbor and spent years training in England. On June 6, 1944, he was one of the very, very first waves that landed on Omaha Beach. More than 90 percent of his unit was killed, almost immediately. If you have ever seen the first fifteen minutes of the movie Saving Private Ryan, you have some idea.

He landed that day as a buck private. So did a couple of his friends named Jim and James. The morning of the next day, my dad was still alive. James and Jim died on the beach. Within a day or two, my father received a field promotion because of so many officers being killed on D Day to become a lieutenant. Later, to be a captain. On the way to Paris, another friend, also named James, died by a sniper at night while he was talking with my dad as James lit a cigarette.

As the war concluded, my father was offered the opportunity to be promoted again to the upper echelons of the military ranks to become a major. To have a career with the military, couriering messages between London and West Berlin. He turned it down, so he could return to the Midwest and marry the rabbi’s daughter he had met in a summer of the 1930s while a lifeguard.

I was due to be born five years after D Day on June 6, 1949. I was three hours tardy in my arrival, just a hair after the five year anniversary of D Day. So my father named his only son James, to remember his friends who died so we could live.

Veterans Day is a day to remember and to be grateful. Thanks, Dad, and to all who served, for all you did for our family and for all of us.

Nice view from chambers in our new Harris County Probate Court  # 5
10/30/2023

Nice view from chambers in our new Harris County Probate Court # 5

Harris County Probate Court  # 4 is ready for the beginning of the holiday season!
10/13/2023

Harris County Probate Court # 4 is ready for the beginning of the holiday season!

Congratulations Judge Kathleen S. Stone, newly appointed  judge of Harris County Probate Court 5!Swearing-in and celebra...
09/19/2023

Congratulations Judge Kathleen S. Stone, newly appointed judge of Harris County Probate Court 5!

Swearing-in and celebration details will be announced soon!

Judges Medina and Simoneaux were treated to a preview of the temporary space for Probate Court 5 in the Family Law Cente...
08/11/2023

Judges Medina and Simoneaux were treated to a preview of the temporary space for Probate Court 5 in the Family Law Center at 1115 Congress St. Some long-time probate attorneys may remember this as the former courtroom for Probate Court 4.

Building services is working hard to freshen up the courtroom, which will be ready on September 1.

Tips for a successful Zoom hearing in Probate Court 1.
08/09/2023

Tips for a successful Zoom hearing in Probate Court 1.

08/05/2023

Just saw that a new series on Netflix is online. It is called FISK and it is about a no nonsense lawyer that joins a low-rent wills and probate firm. Could be fun to watch

07/28/2023
We had a little get together lunch for the retirement of the best damn bailiff in all of Harris County. Thank you Mr. Ta...
07/27/2023

We had a little get together lunch for the retirement of the best damn bailiff in all of Harris County. Thank you Mr. Taylor for the decades of service to our community.

06/14/2023

From Judge Simoneaux:

“The governor has signed HB 3474, the Omnibus Courts bill!

The Act takes effect September 1, 2023, except Article 15 takes effect immediately; Sections 1.011, 2014, 2.015. 2.018, and 2.019 take effect October 1, 2023; Sections 1.014 and 1.015 take effect October 1, 2024; and Sections 1.009 and 1.016 take effect October 1, 2025.”

SECTION 2.011. (a) Amends Section 25.1031(c), Government Code, to provide that Harris County has certain statutory probate courts, including Probate Court No. 5 of Harris County, Texas

(b) Repealer: Section 25.1034(j) (relating to requiring the county clerk to keep a separate
docket for each court), Government Code.

(c) Provides that the Probate Court No. 5 of Harris County, Texas, is created on
September 1, 2023.

05/10/2023

This is so powerful esp in our probate work

My colleague, Judge Simoneaux, is presenting a paper on guardianship at the Texas College of Probate Judges seminar toda...
03/09/2023

My colleague, Judge Simoneaux, is presenting a paper on guardianship at the Texas College of Probate Judges seminar today. There are 19 statutory probate judges in Texas (four of them in Harris County).

Almost all the counties in Texas only have a county judge with general jurisdiction that handles probate matters only one to four days a month. These judges need to be educated on the law and nuances of probate law.

It is a mentorship program that is essential to the administration of probate/mental health law throughout our state.

Four years ago, my previous general election opponent, as a very gracious gesture, administered the oath of office to me...
01/22/2023

Four years ago, my previous general election opponent, as a very gracious gesture, administered the oath of office to me at my judicial investiture. This time, on the last day possible to do so, my general election opponent sued me (as well as approximately 20 other elected judges and county officials being sued) with a frivolous election contest.

On November 8, 2022, I was duly re-elected for another four year term as judge for Harris County Probate Court # 4 by the people of Harris County by over a 28,000 vote margin. On January 1, 2023, I took my solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. It is the same oath my father took before going to Europe to defeat Na**sm. I intend to uphold that oath by defending our democracy against this illiberal attack.

To this end, I will need to hire and retain competent, vigorous counsel. I will be hosting a fundraiser beginning at 5:30 pm on January 30, 2023 at Roberts Markland LLP, 2555 N. MacGregor Way, Houston, Texas 77004.

Please contact my Campaign Treasurer, Noah M. Horwitz, at , for information about becoming part of the Host Committee for my Defense of the Judiciary fundraiser or donating now at

https://reelectjudgehorwitz.com/

If you cannot come to this event and wish to support my position you can also mail a check made payable to:

Re-elect Judge Horwitz
c/o Noah Horwitz, Treasurer
4722 Oakshire Dr.
Apt. # 3
Houston, Texas 77027

Please share this post and let your friends know about this event . Come eat, drink, and donate.

Thank you.

Judge James Horwitz
Presiding Judge
Harris County Probate Court 4

Together we will continue to deliver justice to Harris County, Texas

Win lose or draw, I’m framing this one!
11/07/2022

Win lose or draw, I’m framing this one!

11/04/2022

Line are long at the early voting locations. Remember you can vote at any early voting location in Harris County, Texas. You are NOT REQUIRED to vote near where your residence address is located. Today is the last day to early vote. If you are in line to vote by 7:00 pm, then you still get to vote.

10/22/2022

Voter Info Alert!

Eligible Harris County voters who plan to vote by mail will need 2 Forever Stamps on the purple ballot return envelope! Visit for more on voting & elections.

Harris County Probate Judge James Horwitz puts up his Astros banner in our courthouse. Go ‘Stros!
10/20/2022

Harris County Probate Judge James Horwitz puts up his Astros banner in our courthouse. Go ‘Stros!

At the bottom of this admittedly long post (or the previous post) is a video from a meet and greet at TSU last night whe...
10/09/2022

At the bottom of this admittedly long post (or the previous post) is a video from a meet and greet at TSU last night when I had the opportunity to speak very briefly about who I am and the court I serve. What I said was from a longer article I wrote explaining what is probate. Please take the time to read and share.

What is Probate Court

Probate Court is a bit of “unicorn,” as I call it. While other courts, such as a “criminal” or a “civil” one, may be summarized easily, to call this Court one that sounds in “probate” is a bit of a misnomer.

Probate—the idea of submitting a written will for ex*****on or administration—is indeed a component part of the Court. But we also engage in what are called “heirships”—if you choose not to write a will, then the Texas Legislature effectively writes one for you, and your estate is split and devised per the Legislature’s determination of your heirs.

Additionally, Probate Courts work in “guardianships.” When folks, for any reason, cannot take care of themselves -“incapacitated” is the legal word of art—then there will be court regarding the appointment of a guardian. Some guardianships are temporary—think recovery from an accident. But some guardianships will last for the duration of the affected person’s lifetime. In any case, the law places a duty to supervise the guardians, check-in on the affected person and continuously reaffirm the guardianship is in the best interest of the affected person.

All of these things are unique for another reason. That is the law requires full hearings for them even in amicable, agreed circumstances. This is not the case in other facets of the law—if you don’t disagree, then you don’t sue. But even when Ma leaves all to Pa, or between three kids who all get along, there still has to be court. The Texas Legislature has seen there is a solemnity and a finality to the inheritance of property, and a particularly pernicious opportunity for fraud. Our probate courts minimize that.

Sadly, there are still litigious disagreements in probate, heirship and guardianship, just like any other part of the law. When there is a lawsuit that claims a Will was unduly influenced, it ends up in Probate Court. When there is a lawsuit that, for example, a deceased person could have a common law spouse, which would affect an heirship, it ends up in Probate Court. When someone claims a guardianship is unnecessary, or the guardian is acting improperly, then it ends up in Probate Court. If necessary, Probate Court can have six- or twelve-person jury trials on such issues. Texas is pretty unique among the states, and indeed the world, in having juries entitled to determine these issues.

Additionally, the Probate Court acts like a sort of magnet for civil cases affecting probates, heirships and guardianships. Any lawsuit relating to an estate can—and often does—get sucked into the Probate Court, even if it is in another court first. Sometimes these relate to the reason for the probate in the first place—if John Doe kills Pa, then Pa’s estate can sue John Doe for wrongful death. But sometimes they do not directly—if John Doe and Pa were in a car wreck that hurt Pa, but Pa died of something else, then Pa’s estate can still sue John Doe for negligence and the injuries he received. Or, maybe Pa had a breach of contract case against John Doe. And maybe John Doe wanted to sue Pa for any reason. It all can end up in the Probate Court, and tried by a six-person or even a twelve person jury, depending upon the allegation.

Finally, Harris County Probate Court No. 4 is, alongside Harris County Probate Court No. 3, one of two mental health courts in Harris County. What this means for Probate Court # 4 is that every Monday morning there is a docket from the Harris County Psychiatric Center (HCPC). A hospital is attempting to involuntarily compel psychiatric treatment or medication upon patients accused of being a danger to themselves or others. Before that can happen, the patients have the due process right to a hearing on it.

It has been a brave new world while I have served as a judge.

This term, for better or for worse, has been dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic. For almost two years, the Court operated fully remotely. What we—and many others—found is that we were and are able to function remotely at full efficiency. Our hearings, dockets and even bench trials (nonjury trials decided by the judge) continued apace. (And for a variety of reasons, jury trials, while being a litigant’s complete right in the Probate Courts, are functionally far rarer than in civil court, meaning we did not face any sort of backlog when opening back up to in-person proceedings last year.)

I made a vow in the early days of the pandemic that neither I nor the Court was going to be responsible for a single person getting Covid-19. I have kept my promise.

As noted above, much of what the Probate Court does are routine dockets. And while their importance cannot be overstated, they are not adversarial proceedings tried to an impressionable jury—they are legal actions done before the Court and an extremely professional bar. They can occur at 100 percent efficiency on Zoom. Given that probate and heirship dockets often include the very elderly, and guardianships the elderly or ill, the safety of litigants is paramount.

What I have also found is that it is far easier for said litigant to log in on either her own computer or at the attorney’s office for a streamlined proceeding than it is to force her to drive downtown, park, stand in line to go through the metal detectors, get on crowded elevators, find the courtroom and finally sit on the wooden pews in the gallery for upwards of one or two hours waiting for one’s case to be called for a hearing. Remote zoom hearings are also more mindful of attorneys’ time, which in turn saves their clients’ money.

The switch to remote proceedings has been particularly helpful for the Court’s mental health dockets. In the so-called “Before Times,” I would physically travel to a makeshift courtroom inside HCPC every Monday morning. If patients wanted to testify at a hearing, they would be brought, by law enforcement es**rt, to the courtroom. If they were HCPC patients, this meant being brought from their rooms. But if the patient resided at any of the myriad other psychiatric hospitals in Harris County, then constable deputies would take the patients in the back of a squad car with steel grills all around the back seat to the HCPC. This was not helpful for folks who were either suffering from mental illness, or at the very least not having a great day.

Today, hospital staff set the patient up with a Zoom-connected laptop in a private room at the hospital where the patient is located. This reduces aggravation and conserves the patient’s energy for the hearing, thus maximizing due process rights.

Probate Court # 4 has the best staff.

I try not to use the word “I” or “my” when it comes to describing professional actions. The euphemism “the Court” is used. E.g., the Court admits the will, the Court calls this case to order, etc. A lot of lawyers think this pretentious, but I think just speaking individually when representing an institution is the real pretention and selfishness.

Probate Court # 4 is made up of a staff of 13, including me. When I took office in 2019, I made a point to not make any sudden staffing changes. Probate Court No. 4 staff is like an elite strike force of compassion. I was most lucky to succeed into a Court of folks who take their jobs seriously, are professional and work hard and with the needed solicitude.

Yet in the intervening years, folks have retired and new funding has become available. To the extent I have altered the composition of the Court staff, it has been to add two new staff attorneys. This means four people with law licenses are on the Court staff, more lawyers than a federal judge has on staff and comparable to an appellate justice. This allows for intensive deliberation on complex legal issues that come before the Court. Contrary to what many politicians and demagogues spout, there is no talismanic constant of The Law to be followed. If things were super simple and unambiguous, then they probably would not be the topics of heavy litigating inside the courthouse. Most legal issues have good faith arguments on two sides. Sometimes, the Court has trailblazed the law, in a way the Texas Supreme Court later adopts statewide. I think the structure of the Court’s staff allows for this.

I want to formulate a new, detailed set of Court procedures in a second term. I want to simplify and streamline not only the uncontested dockets, but the contested ones.

Perhaps the most famous work of literature relating to probate is Charles Dickens’s opus "Bleak House". In it, a probate case, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, dominates the background, dragging on for generations until the large estate is completely eaten up by legal fees. I want to do everything I can to avoid such outcomes. I never want to have my own Jarndyce. To that end, I want to fashion a set of procedures for the Court that will minimize delays and allow litigants to argue their cases efficiently and effectively.

I also want to continue a longtime intention of mine that was mostly sidelined by the pandemic: Bringing Probate Courts to the community. I want to go to people, at places of worship, at union halls, at community centers, and civic associations to explain how probate law can work for them. There are components of the probate system that are regrettably complex or arcane, but Texas actually has a much more progressive and accessible system than a lot of other states. There are simple legal concepts that I always want to bring to the community so that even those without the means to hire lawyers can take commonsense steps to protect their families.

God willing, you will never be accused of a crime. You will never be the victim of or a witness to a crime either. You will never get hurt because of someone’s negligence or breach of obligations and have to sue—and will never get sued for the same. If you marry, you will never divorce, nor will you litigate the custody of children. You will never have a kid facing the juvenile justice system or have to navigate our immigration courts. You will never have to declare bankruptcy.

But, and I am remiss to be so morose, you will die, as will your family. God willing, 100 years from now after untold success and no pain, but the inexorably march of time ends in one of Benjamin Franklin’s two certainties of life. That certainty—and sometimes the other one—comes into play at the Probate Court. You will end up in Probate Court one way or another, during or immediately after your lifetime.

This November will be 45 years since I became a lawyer. For over 40 years, I was a trial lawyer. I spent my career in courtrooms. The late Philip Donisi mentored me in probate law and other fine attorneys like the late Racehorse Haynes mentored me in being a trial lawyer, blessed be their memories.

I was a general counsel for businesses and their employees. There was always a tremendous amount of probate work and estate planning, but there was a lot of criminal law, corporate and business law, civil law and family law in between. After this term on the bench, I firmly believe my lengthy varied experience in the law is my best asset as a judge. The most high-stakes thing a trial judge does is, at the risk of stating the obvious, is presiding over a trial. The Rules of Evidence and the Rules of Procedure are the same for all noncriminal courts. So if you’re contesting a Will, a lot of the most important law is the same as were you instead trying a divorce, an 18-wheeler crash or commercial litigation between Worldwide Widgets and Widgets USA.

Aspects of criminal, civil and family law also often affect the Probate Courts. If that “giant magnet” I mentioned earlier sucks in a breach of contract case or a tort lawsuit, I am prepared. If someone for whom the Court regulates a guardianship has a life update involving the criminal justice system or family law, I am prepared.

I am the most qualified candidate for this position, and respectfully ask for your vote. Please feel free to share this post with your friends.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/085lqXwEOouRwZUmAMFYwPknA

www.reelectjudgehorwitz.com

Together we will continue to deliver justice to Harris County, Texas

04/13/2020

Probate Judges' Round Table.

03/29/2020

All attorneys. If you need to travel as part of your job, please keep this letter with you.

https://blog.texasbar.com/files/2020/03/Attorney-Travel-Authorization-COVID-19-1.pdf

03/24/2020

Today, nearly all of the 18 Statutory Probate Judges in the state met online to pose questions and offer solutions. It was a very productive meeting.

03/23/2020
Probate Court No. 1

All of the documents discussed today in the Webinar are available at the bottom of the page here:

Due to the safety protocol of COVID-19 that has been initiated by the Probate Courts and in consideration of the public at large, all non-essential and non-emergency in-person hearings in Harris County Probate Court 1 will be passed through March 31, 2020. That includes the Probate Dockets, Heir...

03/23/2020
Harris County Texas > County Services Closures

Harris County Building and Services Closures:

The Harris County Permits Office will not be accepting or processing cash payments for all permit or inspection fees, in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Customers may pay by check at the cashier's window or by credit card in-person at the kiosk located in the Permits Office Lobby at 10555....

03/18/2020
Harris County Probate Court 1

Harris County Probate Court 1

Probate Court 1 will begin video hearings of all matters on March 31. Attorneys will receive instructions and links to join and interact.
The public will be able to see the hearings live via YouTube; however, the hearings will not be recorded and stored on YouTube. They will be removed at the conclusion of the hearing.
Information will be posted on the Court's website soon.

03/17/2020

The County Clerk issued a statement that the Clerk's Office will be closed to the public beginning March 18 and continuing until further notice. The Probate Courts are already equipped to hold video hearings and the Clerks will be available for those hearings, so there will be no interruption.

For Probate Attorneys: The clerks will not be able to issue letters of testamentary, guardianship or administration until all written testimony, orders and oaths have been received by their office. Attorneys will be able to request copies or letters by phone, mail, email or e-filing. County clerk’s phone No. 713-274-8585 – Email: [email protected].

The County Clerk issued a statement that the Clerk's Office will be closed to the public beginning March 18 and continuing until further notice. The Probate Courts are already equipped to hold video hearings and the Clerks will be available for those hearings, so there will be no interruption.

For Probate Attorneys: The clerks will not be able to issue letters of testamentary, guardianship or administration until all written testimony, orders and oaths have been received by their office. Attorneys will be able to request copies or letters by phone, mail, email or e-filing. County clerk’s phone No. 713-274-8585 – Email: [email protected].

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201 Caroline Street
Houston, TX
77002

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