A Texas estate is required to be represented by a licensed attorney, because an estate executor represents the interests of third parties, not just personal interests.
Rule 7 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party the right to self-representation and states:
Any party to a suit may appear and prosecute or defend his rights therein, either in person or by an attorney of the court.
However, in a recent order from the Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso, in Kankonde v. Mankan, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 4877, the Court confirmed that a pro se litigant who is not an attorney cannot file pleadings on behalf of an estate – only an attorney may file pleadings on behalf of an estate. The order states, in its entirety:
On June 24, 2020, Peggy Kankonde, a non-attorney acting pro se, filed an Appellant’s Brief purportedly on behalf of Mutombo Kankonde (deceased) and East-Side Oncology Clinic, P.L.L.C. However, a pro se litigant who is not an attorney cannot file pleadings on behalf of an estate or a corporation; only an attorney may do that. See In re Estate of Maupin, No. 13-17-00555-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 6321, 2019 WL 3331463, at *2 (Tex.App.–Corpus Christi July 25, 2019, pet. denied)(mem. op.)(citing cases holding that non-lawyer cannot appear pro se on behalf of an estate as independent executor and that an attorney must represent the interests of the estate); Moore v. Elektro-Mobil Technik GmbH, 874 S.W.2d 324, 327 (Tex.App.–El Paso 1994, writ denied)(corporation must be represented in Texas courts by an attorney on appeal).
Because the brief was filed by a pro se litigant who is apparently not authorized to practice law in the State of Texas, we determine that the Appellant’s Brief is of no legal effect, and that since no legally valid Appellant’s Brief was filed by an attorney in this matter by the deadline set by this Court, it appears that this appeal should be dismissed for want of prosecution.
We therefore give Appellants, the Estate of Mutombo Kankonde and East-Side Oncology Clinic, P.L.L.C., 10 days to show cause why this case should not be dismissed for want of prosecution. Failure to show good cause for continuing this appeal and/or explain why the brief filed by non-attorney Peggy Kankonde is legally effective will result in this case being submitted to the Court for dismissal without further notice.
Why Does A Texas Estate Need To Be Represented By An Attorney?
A Texas estate is required to be represented by an attorney because Rule 7 (the right to self-representation) only applies when a person is litigating his rights on his own behalf, as opposed to litigating certain rights in a representative capacity. See Steele v. McDonald, 202 S.W. 3d 926 (Tex. App. – Waco 2006, no pet.) (holding that a non-lawyer cannot appear pro se on behalf of an estate as an independent executor).
A Texas executor of an estate serves in a representative capacity of the estate. Therefore, an attorney is required to represent the interests of the third-party at the outset.
In Estate of Maupin, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 6321, the Court of Appeals cited the policy of the Travis County Texas Probate Court No. 1, which observes a pro se policy whereby individuals representing the interests of third parties must be represented by a licensed attorney. The policy provides:
[A] pro se may not represent others. Under Texas law, only a licensed attorney may represent the interests of third-party individuals or entities, including guardianship wards and probate estates. See In re Guetersloh, 326 S.W.3d 737 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2010, no pet.) and Steele v. McDonald, 202 S.W.3d 926 (Tex. App.—Waco 2006, no pet.), and the authorities cited. Therefore, individuals applying for letters testamentary, letters of administration, determinations of heirship, and guardianships of the person or estate must be represented by a licensed attorney.
If you need to open a probate estate in Texas, contact a Texas probate lawyer to help you.