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Does a Guardianship in Texas End When the Ward Dies?

No, a Texas guardianship proceeding does not end after a ward dies until the work necessary to close the guardianship is complete.

A 2019 Texas case, McIntyre v. McIntyre, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 8437 (Tex. App. Sep. 19, 2019), holds that the Texas guardianship court has continuing jurisdiction after a ward dies to award professional fees, and that the case does not automatically end on the death of the ward.  As explained by the Court:

Although the guardianship of a person ends with the death of the ward, a justiciable controversy may continue to exist regarding other matters such as the guardian’s fees and attorney’s fees. See Zipp v. Wuemling, 218 S.W.3d 71, 73-74 (Tex. 2007) (holding that the ward’s death during pendency of the appeal did not render moot a controversy about removal of the guardian, the guardian’s fees, and attorney’s fees). Here, a justiciable controversy existed after John died regarding Jeff’s application for attorney’s fees to be disbursed from John’s estate.

How is a Claim Filed Against a Guardianship Estate in Texas?

Texas law requires that a claim be presented to the guardian or clerk of court, with supporting affidavits.  The recent case of In the Guardianship of Macer, 558 S.W.3d 222 (Tex. App. 2018) explains how the process works, and the consequence of not following proper procedure:

Section 1157.057 of the Estates Code provides that an order signed by a “court acting on a claim . . . has the effect of a final judgment.” A claim, for purposes of this statute, is one made against the guardianship estate. See generally Tex. Est. Code ch. 1157, subch. A. Concerning guardianships, the Estates Code defines “claim” to include “a liability against the estate of an incapacitated person.” Id. § 1002.005(1). The code establishes several procedural requirements applicable to claims against guardianship estates, including presentment of the claim to the guardian of the estate or the clerk, as well as inclusion of a supporting affidavit. Id. §§ 1157.001, 1157.002, 1157.004. After a claim against a ward’s estate has been presented to, and allowed by, the guardian of the estate, the claim must be filed with the county clerk, who will then enter the claim on the claim docket. Id. § 1157.053. The court shall then approve or reject the claim; the court’s order documenting its action on the claim has the effect of a final judgment. Id. §§ 1157.055, 1157.057(b) (stating that “an order under Subsection (a) has the effect of a final judgment”).

In signing the February 20, 2017 reimbursement order, the probate court did not “act[] on a claim” within the meaning of Chapter 1157. Sterling Jr.’s request for reimbursement—insofar as he sought reimbursement for fees and expenses incurred as Sterling Sr.’s attorney-in-fact relating to the Missouri and Texas litigation—is an assertion of a liability against the guardianship estate. Tex. Est. Code § 1002.005(1). Thus, Sterling Jr. was required to present his request as a “claim” and comply with the procedures outlined in Chapter 1157. However, there is no indication that Sterling Jr. invoked or complied with Chapter 1157. Because claims procedures were not followed here, the trial court’s order is not fairly characterized as one “acting on a claim” under section 1157.057(a). Therefore, section 1157.057(b) does not apply and hence does not require that we give the court’s order the effect of a final judgment.

Under these facts, the portion of the probate court’s February 20, 2017 order authorizing reimbursement for Sterling Jr.’s fees and expenses incurred in the Missouri litigation and Texas litigation is void. See Clements v. Chajkowski, 146 Tex. 408, 208 S.W.2d 841, 843 (Tex. 1948) (order allowing claim against decedent’s estate was void when claim had not been presented to, or rejected by, estate administrator); Cross v. Old Republic Sur. Co., 983 S.W.2d 771, 774 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1998, pet. denied) (“If a claimant fails to present a liquidated claim to the administrator, any resulting order of payment is void.”).

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