I can say this – absolutely. California judges need more, and more detailed, education about probate, wills, trusts, decedent’s intent, mental capacity, undue influence, fraud, conservatorships and elder and dependent adult abuse.
I’m not saying that all judges need more education – some are quite experienced in these areas – but over the past several years I have been running into situations where judges who primarily handle civil or criminal matters are also assigned probate related cases. And this can happen in any court for trial purposes because even in courts that have dedicated probate departments, the trial of a probate case that will take longer than a day will probably be assigned to the master calendar for trial and judicial assignment. I’m not faulting a judge for not having experience in these areas – I am faulting the system and the judiciary education system.
While, yes, it can be argued that it is then for the attorneys to educate that judge, if I’m a judge and one attorney is saying that the law and the required outcome are “X” and another attorney is saying that the law and the outcome are “Y,” as the judge I don’t know who to believe. And add to that the fact that probate, wills, trusts, intent, mental capacity, undue influence, fraud, conservatorships and elder and dependent adult cases and evidence are detailed and complicated, including the law in those areas, which is also regularly changing, and you have a recipe for erroneous decisions, and also opportunities for less than honest counsel to exceed the bounds of advocacy and improperly twist or spin the law and the evidence.
These are important cases. They are the probate court version of family law – important issues, very emotional, and people related and impacting.