Every year in the United States, over 15 million Americans are forced to file civil lawsuits, and a sizeable number of those are trust & probate lawsuits. It's just a fact that the courtroom is an unavoidable reality for many of us, though it's usually a last resort. Once you know you're going to court, the question that follows regards jurisdiction. If you're in the City and County of San Francisco, it's important to find out if that's where your estate or probate case will be litigated.
In estate, trust and probate litigation, one of the key first steps of any case is to determine which county Superior Court is authorized to handle a contested estate matter. In the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco, as in every other county in our state, estate litigation falls under defined limits of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction, we should add, is a court's power to hear and determine proceedings. Sometimes a court won't have the power to regulate an estate dispute, and that means we find out which court is authorized to handle your case.
When determining jurisdictional limits and judicial authority, there are a number of factors to take into account. Here are just a few of them:
- Location of estate assets and property
- Location or domicile of the decedent
- Situs of trust administration
- Reason for the dispute
The judges who oversee cases in California Superior Courts, whether probate or civil matters, like to be sure well beforehand that they possess full authority to hear a case. Are they authorized to decide the outcomes of contested estate matters filed in their court, and to make decisions and issue orders as they see fit? Let's say hypothetically that the estate fight concerns a property in Wyoming owned by a deceased Washingtonian whose beneficiaries live all the way in Louisiana. It's safe to say that's not going to be a case within the jurisdiction of San Francisco Superior Court.
Jurisdiction isn't always necessarily clear-cut. Who, for example, would exercise jurisdiction over a trust if the trustee moves from California to Canada and then proceeds to administer the trust from Canada? Such questions are more common than you'd think.
A county branch of the California Superior Court - whether it be located in San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda County, Solano County, or Sacramento, holds jurisdiction over the estate of a decedent if the following conditions are met:
- There has been an actual death;
- The decedent, at the time of his or her death (a) was domiciled in California (was living in California); or left property in California;
- Proper notice to the interested parties has been published.
When a decedent hadn't been domiciled in California, whether out-of-state or outside the country, at the time of his or her death, a California Superior Court won't have the jurisdiction necessary to appoint an estate representative - unless the decedent owned property in California. Let's imagine a decedent died in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but held real property in his name (not in the name of a trust) in San Francisco, then it would only be appropriate to file a probate case in San Francisco County.
The California Probate Code ensures exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over a given trust's internal affairs. For their part, the trust's internal affairs are applicable to a wide range of activities. San Francisco County's Probate Court oversees a large volume of probate and estate matters every year.
As the smallest county in California at 46 square miles, San Francisco County is situated on the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula with a population of approximately 850,000. San Francisco Superior Court's main branch is located at 400 McAllister St.
Hackard Law's team of trust litigation attorneys work to protect the interests of clients and their estate assets in San Francisco City and County trust and estate litigation, including:
Interpretation of testamentary documents
Lack of testamentary capacity
Preparation and analysis of trustee's accounting
Pursuing or preventing termination of trusts
Petitions for interpretation of trusts
Petitions for determination of heirs
Resignation or removal of trustees
Validity of wills or codicils
Will forgery claims and cases
Our lawyers are experienced in probate litigation, and we are ready to represent both individuals and family businesses in estate, trust, will and probate litigation in San Francisco. Upon receiving a San Francisco estate case, we always set out to first answer: Does the San Francisco County Superior Court possess the legal authority to oversee the matter at hand? If not the San Francisco County Superior Court, then we'll seek the proper venue.
At Hackard Law we help our clients with cases that often come under the jurisdiction of San Francisco County Superior Court. If you have an issue related to estate and trust litigation or other California probate and will matters, feel free to call us today at (916) 313-3030.