Baylor Law Professor Receives Distinguished Probate Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award

June 19, 2009
News Photo 4723Austin attorney Jerry Frank Jones, left, presents the State Bar of Texas Distinguished Probate Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award to Baylor Law Professor Tom Featherston.

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Thomas M. Featherston Jr., the Mills Cox Chair of Law at Baylor Law School, received the Distinguished Probate Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award from the 7,000-member Real Estate, Probate & Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas during a ceremony in Houston in mid-June.

"This award means a great deal to me," Featherston said. "I want to thank leaders of the section like Baylor graduates Fred Cameron and Kent McMahan who, back in the 70s and 80s, first asked me to get involved with bar committee work. I also very much appreciate the Baylor Law School deans, both past and current, and my colleagues who are committed to keeping Baylor Law as a professional school and who know the value of being engaged in productive bar activities, like continuing legal education and legislation, both at the state and national level."

The award recognizes renowned Texas trusts and estates lawyers who have made significant and sustained contributions to the Texas probate, estate & trust law bar throughout their careers. It has been presented annually since 2002. Austin lawyer Jerry Frank Jones, who presented the award, recalled a Houston judge referring to 2005 recipient University of Texas professor Stanley Johanson and Featherston as the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson of Texas trusts and estates law.

"A person cannot work with trust and estate law in Texas without seeing the handiwork of Tom Featherston," said Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben. "His involvement with the State Bar, his continuing education courses that he presents and his regular consultation with the Texas Legislature make him the 'go to' resource for questions dealing with this vital area of the law. We are so proud that he is a Baylor Lawyer and that he has made a career of passing on his expertise to our students."

McMahan, partner at Fulbright and Jaworski in Houston, concurred. "Tom Featherston is much deserving of this honor since he has done so much to improve the law in our field and educate young lawyers and law students of the many challenges of T&E practice. He is a real credit to Baylor Law School and Baylor in general," he said.

Featherston has been involved with trusts and estates law since he was a young lawyer with Butler, Binion, Rice, Cook & Knapp in Houston and was assigned to the T&E section of the firm.

"During my interview, I said that I liked Loy Simpkins' trusts and estates class that I was taking, and that was the area of practice I was assigned when I joined the firm," he said. "I enjoy this area of the law because you help solve people's problems during one of the biggest crises in their lives - the death of a loved one."

A frequent presenter at CLE events across the country that deal with trusts and estates, Featherston has participated since 1988 in the State Bar's annual Advanced Estate Planning and Probate Course, although he did miss 2007 because of a family emergency. He also presents regularly at the State Bar's Advanced Drafting: Estate Planning and Probate course and the Advanced Estate Planning Strategies course. He made his first CLE presentation in 1976, when he was asked to lecture on the Generation Skipping Transfer Tax that had just been enacted.

Some of Featherston's most high-profile work has been on Texas codes that deal with his field. In the 1980s, he served as chairman of the State Bar committee tasked to revise the Texas guardianship statutes, while in the 1990s, he served as chairman of the committee to study and revise claims procedures of the Texas Probate Code.

Most recently, he co-chaired the State Bar's REPTL section's cooperative efforts with the Texas Legislature's Legislative Council in re-codifying the Texas Probate Code, the first and most comprehensive change in the statutory law affecting decedents' estates in more than 50 years. Featherston also provided oversight for two bar committees charged with drafting new substantive law legislation in the area of probate court venue and jurisdiction and independent administration and served as the academic resource for the Texas Legislative Council as issues were raised during the non-substantive new probate code drafting process.

"It seems as if I have been had some part of just about every change in the statutes that govern, trusts and estates for the last 20 years," he said.

Featherston also participates in committee work for the American Bar Association, where he served on the governing council of the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section and currently serves on its task force on teaching trusts and estates in law schools and its planning and nomination committees. For the last 10 years, he also has served as the Trusts and Estates editor of Probate & Property, the section's magazine.

Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Featherston was elected as an Academic Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel in 1991 and as a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation in 1993. He was named Outstanding Baylor University Professor in 2000.

In addition to serving as the Trusts and Estates Articles Editor for Probate & Property, he co-authors West's Texas Practice Guide - Probate on an annual basis and has co-authored Drafting for Tax and Administration Issues, an ABA publication. Featherston also authored the first edition of Questions and Answers: Wills, Trusts & Estates, published by LexisNexis, and co-authored the second edition.

Featherston earned his J.D. with highest honors from Baylor Law School in 1972 after receiving his B.B.A. from Baylor University in 1971. After graduation, he entered private practice in Houston from 1972 through 1982. He joined Baylor Law School in 1982 and was appointed the Mills Cox Chair in 1990.

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