Family settlement agreements and jurisdictionJurisdiction After A Family Settlement Agreement

In a 2014 probate case out of the Austin court of appeals, the executor appealed an order from the probate court requiring her to file an accounting. The executor claimed that since all the parties had entered into a family settlement agreement, the probate court no longer had jurisdiction to order the accounting.


Three sisters signed a family settlement agreement dividing their mother’s estate “as equally as possible.” The executor was one of the sisters. She distributed the financial accounts equally. The mother also owned a farm on which the executor was living. She refused to sell the farm because she said she hoped it would regain value after a real-estate slump. Five years later the farm remained unsold. One of the other sisters asked the probate court to order an accounting which the judge ordered. He also indicated that after the accounting, he would consider a hearing to distribute the remaining assets. The executor appealed. The executor contended that the trial court had no probate jurisdiction because the Agreement supersedes the will. She argues that the Agreement estopped the sister from seeking probate remedies and barred the county court from enforcing probate remedies. After listing all the ways that the probate court retained jurisdiction after a will was filed and an executor appointed, the appeals court stated that the probate court would clearly have jurisdiction “(u)nless the Family Settlement Agreement imposed some legal impediment…” over jurisdiction. The court then went on to say that the Agreement did not mention jurisdiction and affirmed the probate court’s order for an accounting. 427SW3d503.

The Future

The court’s many references to the fact that the Family Settlement Agreement did not mention jurisdiction or how future disputes would be handled seems to imply that if the Agreement had been drawn to take jurisdiction away from the probate court, it would be upheld. That question will have to wait another day.

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By Robert Ray a Board Certified attorney. The foregoing information is general in nature and does not apply to every fact situation. We handle litigation involving inheritance disputes. We don’t prepare wills. We don’t file wills for probate or distribute estates except when we are contesting a will or protecting a will from a contest. We handle a select few cases on contingency. Don’t use a comment to ask a personal question about an inheritance issue because your name and comment will be public. To ask a litigation question and to protect your privacy, click the red button to the right.