The Bexar County Probate Courts have seen an increase in cases in the wake of the pandemic. Over the last few months, SALSA has worked with Probate Court Staff Attorneys, Martin Collins and Michelle Casillas to understand how pro bono volunteers can lessen the burden the courts are facing. An overview of these changes can be found in our recent blog post. After many discussions, the decision was made to focus SALSA’s efforts on applications for small estate affidavits, the only pro-se option for applicants seeking to probate an estate. To qualify for a SEA, the estate assets must be below $75,000, the value of the debts cannot exceed the assets, and the status of any Medicaid debts must be known.
Common issues the courts see with SEA applications are that applicants do not correctly fill them out or that the estate does not qualify. In SALSA’s Small Estates Clinic, income-qualifying applicants are matched with volunteer attorneys to obtain advice about why their SEA applications were rejected. The help desk model of this Clinic allows volunteer attorneys to assist applicants with correctly completing the SEA forms provided on the probate courts’ website. In the event that the SEA is not the appropriate avenue, the attorney can provide more in-depth guidance about the proper probate path(s). Cases that cannot proceed with a SEA may be referred for placement with a volunteer attorney through SALSA’s extended representation program or to the San Antonio Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service. Even if the SEA is not the appropriate path for the applicant, this clinic model ensures that the applicant understands next steps for the probate of their loved one’s estate.
Interested in volunteering for the Small Estate Clinic? The Small Estate Clinic is a fast and simple way to get involved and make a positive difference both directly for these pro se applicants, and also for the Probate Courts. Attorneys from various practice areas are invited to volunteer! SALSA has training materials and other resources available to volunteers, and SALSA staff and mentors will be available to answer questions during the clinics. The clinics will occur regularly, so please check our website for upcoming clinic opportunities. If you want more information about the Small Estate Clinic before registering, please contact SALSA’s Estates Fellow, Valerie Sanchez, at [email protected]. We look forward to working with you to provide these critical legal services for indigent families throughout Bexar County.