New California Case – the Probate Court Follows the Code of Civil Procedure Unless the Probate Code Provides Otherwise

Katzenstein v. Chabad of Poway, Court of Appeal of the State of California, Fourth Appellate District, No. D066340, filed June 15, 2015

In a rather harsh new case the California Court of Appeal reminds us that the Probate Court is a division of the Superior Court and that procedures in the Probate Court follow the Code of Civil Procedure unless the Probate Code provides otherwise.

In relevant part, Katzenstein in her capacity as Trustee filed a Petition in Probate Court following the death of Robert Feinberg who was the cosettlor and former cotrustee of the Trust and the named insured in two life insurance policies.

In the Petition, Trustee sought: (1) a determination that the Trust is the beneficiary of, and therefore entitled to the proceeds from, one of the insurance policies; and (2) damages against Chabad of Poway for interfering with the payment of that policy’s benefits to the Trust.

Chabad responded to the Petition by filing a document entitled “Claimant’s Objection and Counter Claim [sic] to Petition filed by Trustee to Determine Ownership of Life Insurance Policy Proceeds”.

In an unsigned minute order following summary judgment proceedings initiated by Trustee, the Superior Court sua sponte struck Chabad’s Objection and Counterclaim on the basis that the Code of Civil Procedure precludes a party from seeking affirmative relief in an answer.

Chabad appealed. However, because an unsigned minute order is not an appealable order under either the Code of Civil Procedure or the Probate Code, the Court of Appeal concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and therefore dismissed Chabad’s appeal.

I refer to the decision at the Superior Court level as being harsh because it would have been appropriate for the Superior Court to have allowed the Objection, or to have allowed amendment of the pleading because clearly the Objection and Counterclaim could have been split into two separate documents.

Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco / California)