Jim Hartnett Jr.

Partner,The Hartnett Law Firm
Dallas
55

Jim Hartnett Jr. always has been fascinated with the family drama he often finds in trust and probate cases. “Some of these people are larger than life. . . . It’s very interesting to find out how strange their lives become,” he says.

Hartnett has tried many trust and probate cases to verdict and has successfully argued cases in a number of appellate courts.

In 2007, he spent 16 weeks in a trial involving a king-size family feud over the multimillion-dollar estate left after the 2001 death of Belton Kleberg Johnson. A descendant of Capt. Richard King, the founder of the famed King Ranch, Johnson was known to family and friends as simply “B.” Hartnett represented several of Johnson’s grandchildren who joined Johnson’s daughters and daughter-in-law in a suit that challenged a will and trust that chiefly benefited Johnson’s widow. Johnson was married three times and had executed a number of different wills before his death at the age of 71.

The jury in In Re Estate of Belton Kleberg Johnson found that the third wife had exercised “undue influence” over Johnson. Bexar County Probate Court No. 1′s March 5, 2008, judgment knocked out two wills, two trusts and a codicil, leaving intact a will that benefited the grandchildren. While there is still some question about how much the grandchildren ultimately will receive, Hartnett says the amount will be at least $7 million and could be more than $20 million. When San Antonio’s 4th Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment in 2011, it also found that evidence supported the jury’s award of $6.3 million in fees to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Hartnett also represented a granddaughter of cosmetics mogul Mary Kay Ash in a suit that began in 2005 and focused on the management of Ash’s multimillion-dollar estate. Ash died in 2001 at age 83. Granddaughter Kathlyn Elizabeth Kerr filed suit in Dallas County Probate Court No. 2 against an uncle and a bank, seeking to have them removed as trustees of the family trusts. Hartnett says that when In Re Marilynn Reed Trust wrapped up with a confidential settlement in 2011, his client’s interests were placed in separate trusts and a new trustee was appointed.

Hartnett says that one of the things that makes him different from some lawyers in the trust and estates practice is his focus on trying cases. “I’m not a planner or administrator,” he says. “I’m a trial lawyer.”

After Hartnett graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1983, he joined his father, Jim Hartnett Sr., in starting The Hartnett Law Firm in Dallas. A partner in the firm since 1988, Hartnett practices with his father and brothers, Will, Jay and Fred.


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“That guy is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to trust and estate litigation.”

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“She is one of the finest [estate] planners I’ve ever met.”

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“If you had a major estate and gift tax case, John is somebody you would think of referring it to. He has a great depth in those kinds of cases.”

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