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Will Contest and Declaratory Judgments

Will Contest and Declaratory Judgments
– Potential Use for San Antonio Probate Lawyers.


What are Declaratory Judgments?

A declaratory judgment is a judgment that defines the rights and relationships between the parties in a lawsuit. A declaratory judgment will help resolve legal uncertainties between parties so that the dispute can move forward with other important matters pertaining to the case. As you can see, declaratory judgments can be an important tool for San Antonio probate lawyers in fiduciary litigation cases.

History of Declaratory Judgments

Few articles under the subject matter of trust and estate lawsuit could begin with less excitement than a historical account of the subject at hand. However, in the case of declaratory judgments, while the stereotype may remain unchanged, the history does give perspective into the (fairly) remarkable procedural device known as the declaratory judgment. Remarkable because of its versatility and the myriad of potential uses by Texas probate lawyers.

Declaratory Judgments in America

The concept of declaratory judgments has been around since Roman times. In the modern era in America, the notion of the declaratory judgment first arose in federal practice. Advocates believed “they were providing courts with more flexibility to settle disputes outside the traditional remedial structure.”1 Opponents, on the other hand, fiercely opposed the idea of giving courts power to render advisory opinions.2 These early positions have clearly impacted the manner in which declaratory judgments successfully operate in the modern courtroom.

By early 1943, the federal courts and the courts of 39 states had been authorized to render declaratory judgments, and about three-fourths of these states had adopted the Uniform Act.3 The Texas Legislature passed the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act in 1943.4

Benefits of Declaratory Judgments

A key “reward” for the fiduciary litigant seeking declaratory relief is that courts have the flexibility to make important decisions about unique real world situations.

Summary Judgments

When the decision relates solely to “legal” (as opposed to factual) matters, the courts are encouraged with discretion to provide a summary judgment for a couple of reasons.

Advantages of Summary Judgments

  1. Saves Time: If the trial judge is willing to be persuaded, these summary judgments can be made quickly and also be made with little to no discovery. This is because the decision at hand is solely based on the law, not facts, so it could be argued that because no evidence needs citing, then there is no need for a discovery.
  2. Saves Money: Because there is often no need for a discovery, parties are saved great expense from what is too often the morass of written and oral discovery.
  3. Early Motivation: The trial court’s declaration might be dispositive, or alternatively may be so important to the case that the parties are incentivized to focus on early resolutions rather than contentious litigation.

While these benefits are unfavored to the perceived loser in the equation, the old adage “ounce of prevention, pound of cure” may be one for that probate lawyer to remember.

Potential Uses of Declaratory Judgments for San Antonio Probate Lawyers

The potential uses of declaratory judgments for probate attorneys in San Antonio, South Texas, Central Texas, or beyond, are quite broad. A wise San Antonio probate lawyer will carefully focus on the benefits of being able to craft their own story, and craft the questions that they, as probate lawyers, will present to the court. It is an opportunity ripe for success.

Declaratory Judgments in Texas Probate Law

Between 2000 and 2010, an average of 16 Texas appellate opinions per year were issued involving the Declaratory Judgments Act in the context of probate and trust litigation. Year on year, the variance in raw numbers of these appellate challenges (in the same context) was generally unremarkable.

Texas continues to develop its trial court statistical reporting, and there is no known specific breakdown for declaratory judgment filings in probate court.5 On a side note, Texas probate lawyers who have not reviewed the information provided by the Texas Judicial Information Program should do so.

1 Andrew Bradt, “Much to Gain and Nothing to Lose – Implications of the History of the Declaratory Judgment for the (b)(2) Class Action,” 58 Ark. L. Rev. 767, 778-79 (2006)
2 Id.
3 McDonald & Carlson Tex. Civ. Prac. § 4:10 (2d. ed.)
4 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 37.001 to 37.011 (Vernon 1997 & Supp. 2003). See Tex. Civ. Jud. Coun. 12th Rep 19 (1940); Tex. Civ. Jud. Coun. 13th Rep 31 (1941); Tex. Civ. Jud. Coun. 14th Rep 16 (1942); Tex. Civ. Jud. Coun. 15th Rep 13 (1943)


James Carter | Texas Will Contest Lawyer

James W. Carter

James Carter practices law in the areas of probate, trust, and real estate litigation at Langley & Banack’s San Antonio location. Mr. Carter is known as a strong fiduciary litigation attorney with a proven track record in trying complex will contest cases. The San Antonio Business Journal presented Mr. Carter the Outstanding Lawyer Award in 2016, and he is also AV-rated “Preeminent” by Martindale-Hubbell. Mr. Carter is a frequent speaker and author on matters involving Texas probate, estate, and trust litigation.


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