County Courts at Law do not have jurisdiction to consider trust disputes

Subject matter jurisdiction in Texas contested probate and trust cases is a patchwork, often confusing, system.  The fear of all parties is litigating a case for years, only to find out on appeal that the lower court had no jurisdiction to consider key issues. Subject matter jurisdiction can not be conferred on a particular court by agreement, estoppel, or judicial admissions.  Furthermore, lack of subject matter jurisdiction is an issue a party may raise for the first time on appeal. These concepts are highlighted in a recent opinion by the Fort Worth Court of Appeals.  In Wood v. Boldt, the court vacated various rulings made by the County Court at Law No.1 of Parker County.  The problem?  Only statutory probate courts and district courts have jurisdiction over trusts, even testamentary trusts:

When reviewing proceedings in the county court at law, the phrases “appertaining to estates” and “incident to an estate” are not defined as including the interpretation and administration of testamentary trusts. See id. Under section 5A(b), however, that task-“the interpretation and administration of testamentary trusts”-is a matter “appertaining to” or “incident to an estate” for probate proceedings in the statutory probate courts and district courts. See Act of May 22, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 1302, § 1, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 4954, 4954-55 (amended 1999 and 2003) (current version at Tex. Prob.Code Ann. § 5A(b) (Vernon Supp.2008)). Thus, under probate code section 5A, county courts at law do not have jurisdiction over matters involving a testamentary trust, but statutory probate courts and district courts do.

The county court at law should have transferred the disputes regarding the testamentary trusts to a district court in Parker County.