STATE OF THE PROBATE COURT, By Amber Rodriguez

On March 28, the Estate Planning and Probate Section of our bar welcomed Judge Glen M. Reiser, Ventura County’s presiding probate judge. Judge Reiser presented his annual State of the Probate Court address to a standing-room-only crowd. As usual, Judge Reiser’s presentation was informative and humorous. Some highlights:

Attorney Fees

An item that is always at the top of every attorney’s list: attorney fees. Given that most attorney fees in probate matters (including guardianships and conservatorships) are subject to court approval, this is very valuable information. Judge Reiser shared with us that he has increased his “maximum” allowable hourly fee from $325 to $340. The fee for any particular attorney is determined by considering his or her personal experience and expertise.

Local Rules

Among the next round of proposed changes for our local rules are procedures that encourage counsel and pro pers to make video appearances, authorization to use either local or state forms for filing a care plan and various bond issues, including the absolute requirement that out of state representatives post bonds and changes to the local rules which emphasize that the Probate Code guidelines will be strictly enforced.

Changes to filing fees

Judge Reiser reminded the audience of the following fee changes: (1) An increase to $435 for the filing fee for most probate petitions (plus a one-time fee of $30 for court reporter services); (2) A $50 fee for lodging a will; and a $500 filing fee for any motion for summary judgment.

Technology Report

The audience also learned that Ventura County is falling behind a bit in the technology department. By the end of next year, most counties will have e-filing available. Some of the very few exceptions will be Ventura County, Los Angeles County and Imperial County. Judge Reiser is extremely active in this area and hopes Ventura will catch back up (and begin offering e-filing) soon.

Counsel for Proposed Conservatee

Judge Reiser shared with us his belief that the court should appoint counsel for a conservatee early in the conservatorship process (a belief he has shared with us on many prior occasions). He believes this is appropriate even when private counsel claims to represent the conservatee. His reasoning behind this position involves  the rights that can be affected before a conservatorship is even in place. He believes it is a better protection of due process to appoint counsel (or, in some cases, co-counsel) early in the case and relieve them if it is determined that the proposed conservatee has the capacity to retain their own counsel.

Special Needs Trusts

The audience engaged Judge Reiser in a discussion involving Special Needs Trusts (SNTs) that are created in civil matters without the Probate Court’s involvement. Unfortunately, these SNTs can later become administrative nightmares. Judge Reiser indicted he would consider a local rule which required the   proposed SNTs be presented to the Probate Court for approval before a civil matter could be settled.

Giraldin

Judge Reiser also briefly discussed the recent California Supreme Court decision in Giraldin. He urged practitioners to review the case carefully and be mindful of how it may apply to their clients. Judge Reiser will be joining two other presenters for a panel discussion of the Giraldin case at our June meeting.

Judge Reiser’s State of the Probate Court presentation is always packed full of helpful hints and timely advice. We appreciate the time he takes to make this annual presentation and we are looking forward to having him update us again next year. We hope you will join us.

Amber Rodriguez is the current chair of the Executive Committee for the Estate Planning and Probate Section of the Ventura County Bar. Her practice focuses on probate and trust litigation and administration, conservatorships & estate planning. You can reach Amber at  arodriguez@estateattorneycalifornia.com.

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