Harris County Probate courts: Millions at stake

Harris County probate courts have been the stage for the post-death dramas of the likes of Howard Hughes, Anna Nicole Smith and a host of oilmen, heiresses and other mega millionaires. They are  productive grounds for seemingly endless investigative stories. Here are a few:

Story about Mrs. Helen Hale and how  a dispute between siblings took this widow out of her home and into the care of a felon. (2011): http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Guardians-for-the-elderly-and-disabled-paid-2251312.php

Violated trust: Exposing a Texas Scam (2010) - How a VA guardian is being prosecuted and what's being done to recover disabled veterans' stolen funds.

How one case - the Ugo di Portanova guardianship - has generated millions of fees in recent years as trustees and guardians sue each other using his money. (2010)

Story in 2010 about the supreme court reports on probate fees awarded by judges statewide -then available for the first time on the web:

A GAO report on guardianship problems in 2010:

My 2007 probate court series for the Houston Chronicle prompted fee guidelines designed to crack down on abusive overcharges to be adopted by all Harris County probate judges. Later, many other probate courts in Texas adopted similar rules, which were first developed by the Travis Co probate court. The Texas Supreme Court later boosted requirements for reporting fees that judges statewide award in probate cases. My 2010 analysis of the new fee data (now available electronically) showed that Harris County probate judges still ranked by far the highest in total fees awarded. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4915306.html

The Chron's 2007 series showed that some counties had ignored a long-time requirement to report fees in probate cases, which were imposed by a Texas Supreme Court rule. The printed fee reports that were available were stored in litte-used archives in Austin. Estate of Denial was one of several bloggers that picked up this story http://www.estateofdenial.com/2007/07/08/fees-paid-to-probate-lawyers-unreported/)

The 2007 series: The bizarre saga of Perry Whatley - a disabled millionaire who lived modestly and ultimately fled to Arizona to avoid probate court supervision http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4916659.html

The 2007 series: How millions of the Conte family's money went to court appointees, including a rookie court-appointed administrator who served for a time as the probate judge's campaign treasurer.  http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4915306.html

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