Laura Heard, Esq.
(Hill Country Village, TX)
Laura D. Heard Law Firm Inc.
When I became an attorney, I took an oath to support the law and to represent my clients with honesty and integrity. I take that oath seriously to this day. I have been blessed to be born in Texas and privileged to have a very long career in both family law and probate law in Texas. I went to law school to study estate planning and probate, and writing has long been a passion of mine, hence this book on the topics that I think everyone needs to know. Family law and probate are the areas of law that will affect most ordinary people at some point.
This may come as a surprise, but in most Texas counties other than the largest ones, there aren’t separate Probate Courts. Instead, probate usually gets handled in a section of a wider-use county court. Bexar County, on the other hand, which encompasses San Antonio, currently has two Probate Courts that do nothing but probate and related matters. Probate includes not only the estates of deceased persons, but also guardianships for people of all ages, and surprisingly, the statutory probate court has the power to pull in a divorce or paternity case that is related to the probate or guardianship, even the power to take it away from District Court.
The very first probate judges to sit on the benches of the Bexar County Probate Courts were appointed around the time that I was in law school. I have, therefore, known and practiced before every single judge who has ever sat on the bench of any Probate Court in Bexar County. Not too many attorneys can say that. In addition, while based in San Antonio, I’ve enjoyed handling cases all over the State of Texas.
During law school, I was privileged to work for Dr. Gerry Beyer, one of the finest and most respected professors of probate law in Texas. I helped Dr. Beyer write a textbook for law students on probate and wills, as well as a form book for attorneys on estate administration, wills, and probate. I will be forever grateful for that experience. In 1986, I was thrilled to publish my first article as a solo author on a probate law topic in St. Mary’s Law Journal (“A Time to be Born, A Time to Die: Alternative Reproduction and Texas Probate Law,” by Laura D. Heard, 17 St. Mary’s Law Journal 927 (1986)).
In law school, I also studied divorce law and was very interested and invested in it: in fact, I earned the highest grade among everyone in my law school class on the topic of family law that semester. Later I learned that the majority of cases heard in civil District Courts are family law cases. In general, family law lawyers spend more time in contested hearings in the courtroom than any other lawyers. (Move over, Perry Mason and Matlock!)
My legal and writing education continued when I was honored to be chosen as a briefing attorney for the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio in 1987-1988.
When I started my practice of law, I began to realize how much overlap there is between the Texas Estates Code and the Family Code, both in terms of property and children. When it comes down to it, both are largely concerned with dividing community property in Texas and both concern family relationships. I have always been fascinated with that intersection in family law and probate cases. You will see evidence of that overlap between probate and family law/divorce throughout this book.
In the year 2000, I began receiving appointments to Child Protective Services cases, helping children who had been removed from their parents because of abuse and neglect. The bright spot in that area of law is when an adoption takes place.
Now, my practice is equally focused on family law and probate, and whenever I talk about one area of the law, I always think about the implications for the other, and it surprises me that other lawyers don’t see the two areas as intricately intertwined. While I spend a great deal of my time sorting and dividing up property for people in estate planning, divorce, inheritances, or mediation, I am surprised to find that many estate planning attorneys shy away from any divorce case and many family law attorneys refuse to do anything related to Wills or probate. Not to mention the majority of attorneys who would never touch a child abuse case or handle a protective order.
I feel that because of my varied experiences, my law firm is really able to offer a full spectrum of legal services, from the cradle to the grave. My firm helps people with legal issues from adoptions, pre and post-nuptials, divorce, retirement and real estate divisions, child custody, child support, and child abuse to estate planning and setting up trusts, and finally to the probate of estates after death, with and without a Will.
I have been practicing that way and offering that range of services since 1987. I love the fact that since then, I have been privileged to hear people’s life stories every day, some of them quite amazing and inspirational. Often, my work puts me in the position to help people through the worst times in their lives. I feel honored to be able to regularly serve as a sympathetic ear for people who are really at a low point, and also to encourage them and help them make their lives better for the future. That is a part of my job that I absolutely love.
My motto has become “Justice Flows from Truth, Compassion, Wisdom, and Persistence.”™ My goal is to help provide peace for people who are suffering great stress due to divorce or death of a loved one.