Photograph: Miguel Vieira
Cuts in California's state budget have made county Superior Courts across our state to cut back on customer service over a lack of public money. Court administrators have been compelled to lay off professional staffers, shut down courtrooms and scale back business hours. The Judicial Council of California says that over 52 county courthouses and over 200 courtrooms have been closed down - that matters for estate, probate and trust law statewide, as well.
Contra Costa County has also felt the crunch. Civil, trust and probate filings don't stop just because there might be less open hours to resolve these cases. Where your case is filed will depend upon your jurisdiction. Maybe you live in Pittsburg, Antioch or Concord, or perhaps Walnut Creek or Brentwood. Think of jurisdiction as another way to answer the question, "Which Court Will Hear This Matter?"
Probate, trust and estate litigators will determine just which county Superior Court has the authority to resolve a disputed estate matter. This is commonly referred to as "jurisdiction." In Contra Costa County, probate litigation comes under certain jurisdictional limits. Jurisdiction is the power of a Court to hear and determine proceedings. And if one Superior Court does not hold the authority to preside over the probate litigation matter, then we have to ask: Which Court does retain this authority?
Jurisdictional limits or Judicial Authority may relate to geography (a probate case in Contra Costa County as opposed to Alameda County); nationality of the parties involved; where those parties are located; the capacity of the Court to apply relief; where estate assets are located; place of residency or domicile of the person who passed away (the decedent); situs of trust administration; and what factual matters the probate dispute actually concerns.
Judges in both civil and probate court, no matter the county of California, want to be sure that they possess the rightful authority to preside over a case before it is already underway in the courtroom. This represents a very important question at the outset of the probate case - and it's not something one just looks into the evening before a trial. Does a judge hold the lawful power to resolve the matters that have been filed in their Court, and also to issue judicial orders at the request of the petitioner, plaintiff, respondent, or defendant?
If an estate or probate fight concerns Virginia property that was under the ownership a now-deceased Washingtonian whose beneficiaries live in Texas, it's not very likely the California Court will determine that it has any jurisdiction over the property or the participants in the case.
Conflicts in jurisdiction can be further garbled by the legal motions of each side after an estate case has begun. Who, for example, retains proper jurisdiction over a trust if the trustee, a California resident, decides to move to the Bahamas and operate the trust from there? More often than you would realize, these and other jurisdictional matters take place all too frequently in California Superior Courts.
A California Superior Court - administering one of California's 58 counties (like Contra Costa County), retains jurisdiction over the estate of a decedent as long as three key requirements are fulfilled: (1) An actual death; (2) the decedent, at the time of his or her death (a) lived in California or (b) left property in California; and (3) proper notice to interested parties is published.
When, however, the decedent had not actually been domiciled in California - whether simply out of state or out of U.S. borders - at the time of his or her death, the California Court doesn't hold the jurisdiction to appoint a personal representative to the estate unless the decedent owned property in the State of California. In other words - if the deceased died in Boston, Massachusetts, but owned property in Pittsburg, Antioch, Moraga, Oakley or El Cerrito, then a probate will likely be opened in Contra Costa County Superior Court.
The California Probate Code provisions exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over the internal matters within a given trust. As a result, the internal matters of a trust can be applied to a wide spectrum of actions. The Probate Court in Contra Costa County manages thousands of probate and estate matters every year.
Contra Costa County sits at the northern end of the East Bay (California's populous Bay Area), and extends to the Solano County line. According to the estimates of the 2010 National Census, Contra Costa County is home to over one million people.
There is one Superior Court in Contra Costa County with four locations: Main Courthouse in Martinez; the Arnason Justice Center in Pittsburg; the George D. Carroll Courthouse in Richmond and the Superior Court in Walnut Creek.
The nineteen incorporated Cities that make up Contra Costa County and fall under Contra Costa County Superior Court jurisdiction include Pinole; Concord; Pittsburg; Martinez; Danville; Moraga; El Cerrito; Richmond; Walnut Creek; San Ramon; Antioch; Pleasant Hill; Oakley; Lafayette; Brentwood; San Pablo; Hercules and Orinda.. There are a two unincorporated communities in Contra Costa County - Canyon and Hasford Heights.
Pursuing or preventing termination of trusts
Undue Influence and Lack of Testamentary Capacity
Resignation or removal of trustees
Validity of wills or codicils
Petitions for interpretation of trusts
Will forgery claims
Hackard Law's trust, estate and probate litigation attorneys can help protect individuals, families and family businesses in estate, trusts, will and probate litigation in Contra Costa County, California. When we begin to analyze a case for action, we start from this question: Does the Contra Costa County Superior Court wield the legal authority over the case on which it is asked to rule? And if not, then where is the best venue for jurisdiction?
At Hackard Law we we're there to help our clients - we hold wrongdoers in estate and trust matters responsible before the law. We pursue probate litigation through many of California's largest counties, from San Diego and San Francisco to Sacramento, Sonoma and Contra Costa. If you are facing these and other California Probate Court estate and will issues in Contra Costa County, call us today at (916) 313-3030.