What Happens in a California Probate Court

It’s not like the movies or TV!

I go to probate Court a lot and also “appear” telephonically a lot more.  Telephonic appearances, via CourtCall, are great as I can be live in the courtroom but not travel to get there. This enables me to easily and efficiently handle probate cases throughout California.

Today I have a hearing in Sacrament, department 129, on Power Inn Road.  The hearing is at 9:00 and here is typically how these things go.

For a 9:00 hearing, of course, I want to be there early.  I try to arrive at about 10 before the hour. Sometimes the courtroom does not open until the appointed time and other days it’s unlocked already. It depends on the county and if there is another, private matter, being heard.  In Sacramento, for instance, every Thursday morning are private cases dealing with mental health and the courtroom is not open to the public. Thus all the attorneys, and a few clients, wait outside the courtroom until the bailiff let’s us all in.

The attorneys typically sit in the front row and the clients or pro-pers in the audience.  I often sit in the back row with one of my friends.

The Judge comes in about 9:00ish to start the calendar. The bailiff generally announces, “come to order, department 129 is in session, the honorable Judge Christopher Krueger presiding.”

In most counties there is a list of anywhere between 10 and 75 probate matters.  In most counties the Judge first calls the matters that have a simple and quick conclusion. Thus he will call the matters that are pre-approved, being continued and the ones being dropped from the calendar. This first pass through the calendar is usually pretty quick.  The Judge often doesn’t wait, more than a split second to make sure nobody is objecting, before moving on to the next case.  It thus might sound something like this:

Judge: “Case #1, estate of Smith, continued to May 17th…. case #2, estate of Jones, petition for probate and letters testamentary… approved…, case #5, estate of Johnson dropped for failure to file proper documents….”  On it goes like that on the first pass.  Attorneys or parties may stand up but also might just watch to make sure nobody objects to their case and to be there in case the Judge has any questions.

The second pass is the more difficult matters, the contested matters and the matters the Judge needs to be more involved. If the first pass takes 15 minutes the second pass can take 30 minutes or 2 hours depending on the cases and how much leeway the Judge gives the parties.

The standard probate calendar is not normally the place to call witnesses, tell long stories, or anything you might see on TV. Rather the Judge is just trying to keep the case moving forward. If it’s a complicated situation, requiring witnesses or testimony, then the Judge will generally set those matters to come back another day.  In other cases the Judge will order, or at least recommend, the parties go to mediation to try and settle their differences.

Mediation is a nice option as an experienced probate lawyer or retired Judge can help the parties see the opposition’s stance and often work something out without going through a full trial.

In all for my 9:00 hearing today I might be out of there at 9:15 and I might be out of there at 11:15. We shall see….


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