Understanding the judicial system can be challenging for anyone who does not work in the system. Navigating the judicial system can be downright intimidating – particularly when the system is as large as the one in Los Angeles, California. While the average person can easily go an entire lifetime without the need to understand or navigate most courts within the judicial system, probate court is an exception to that general rule. There is a good chance that you will find yourself involved in a legal matter handled in probate court at some point in your life. It would help, therefore, to know what types of cases are handled in Los Angeles Probate Court.
The U.S. Judicial System – An Overview
Although there is no need for you to have an in-depth understanding of the U.S judicial system, it helps to have some basic knowledge about how the American court system works. The U.S. operate sunder a federalist form of government. In essence, this means that we have a strong central government in the form of the U.S. federal government, along with numerous smaller semi-autonomous governments in the form of individual state governments. Our judicial system follows the same pattern. We have a system of federal courts that span the entire country. We also have state court systems in each state. The individual states decide how to structure their court system; however, most state court systems have the same basic structure with a high court, several appellate level courts, and then the trial and specialty courts. Probate Court is one of those “specialty” courts. We refer to it as a “specialty” court because it only hears certain types of cases, unlike the other trial level courts that are courts of general civil or criminal jurisdiction.
Los Angeles Probate Court
Given the nature of the cases heard in Probate Court, it is likely that you will have some involvement with the court at some point in your life. Among the more common types of cases heard in Probate Court are:
- Distribution of the estate of a decedent (probating an estate) – when an individual dies, the assets left behind by the decedent make up his/her “estate.” That estate must be “probated” and eventually passed down to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
- Trust proceedings – a trust is administered by the Trustee. Probate Court has jurisdiction over issues involved in the administration of living and testamentary trusts. Trust administration involves managing and investing trust assets, paying taxes owed by the trust, and distributing trust assets according to the terms of the trust (among other things). Sometimes, questions or conflicts relating to the administration of the trust arise.
- Guardianship proceedings – if the parent(s) of a minor child are unable, or unwilling, to care for the child, a Guardian may need to be appointed by a court. Probate Court handles guardianship proceedings and retains oversight over the Guardian.
- Conservatorship proceedings – sometimes, an adult is unable to safely care for himself/herself and/or manage his/her finances and assets. When this is the case, the Probate Court has the authority to appoint a responsible person or “conservator” to care the adult, referred to as a “conservatee.” The Probate Court can appoint a conservator of the person, a conservator of the estate, or both, depending on the needs of the conservatee.
- Minor’s compromises – a minor, or adult with a disability, does not have the legal ability to settle financial claims; however, a disputed claim for a minor or person with a disability occurs when an adult signs on behalf of a child or person with a disability to compromise or settle a claim so that money can be received. The law doesn’t allow a minor or person with a disability to sign to compromise their own claim without the benefit of an adult guardian. The Los Angeles Probate Court has jurisdiction over these matters.
The types of cases handled by the Los Angeles Probate Court can be complex and frequently involve sensitive and personal legal issues. If you find yourself involved in a Probate Court matter it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced California probate attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you understand your legal options.
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