Probate Court Is Not …

  1. Probate Court Is Not Law & Order
  2. Probate Court Is Not LA Law
  3. Probate Court Usually Has Only One Party: You
  4. Probate Court Is Often Part of an Ex Parte Department — Read “Hectic”

A.  Probate Court Is Not Law & Order

Probate Court is not a criminal Court, such as seen in Law & Order.   There is no “probate police” that oversees Decedent’s estates or guardianships, no “probate prosecuting attorney” who brings negligent Personal Representatives or Guardians to justice in Probate Court.  In Probate Court, part of the Civil Court system, the parties are generally all members of the public, such as you and me, and the purpose is largely to ensure that the Decedent’s intent is carried out or the Incapacitated Person is cared for and protected, not to determine wrongfulness or exact punishment.

B.  Probate Court Is Not LA Law

Probate Court is also not a civil trial Court, such as seen in LA Law.  With rare exceptions, there is no disagreement with another party.  In Probate Court, the issue generally is not to resolve a dispute among opposing parties, such as in trial Court, but to obtain society’s approval for something regarding a Decedent’s estate or a guardianship that:

  • You want to have happen, such as your being appointed as Decedent’s Personal Representative or an Incapacitated Person’s Guardian, or
  • You want to do, such as your closing a probate estate and distributing its remaining assets to Decedent’s beneficiaries or heirs.

C.  Probate Court Usually Has Only One Party: You

With rare exceptions (eg, with a Citation and an Order to Show Cause), no one “makes” anybody go to Probate Court.  The Probate Court is there to receive your requests for its approval.  You ask the Probate Court specifically for what you want regarding a Decedent’s estate, guardianship, minor settlement, trust, power of attorney, etc. (collectively, “probate matters”).  The Court responds — with either:

  • A Yes,
  • A No, or
  • A Maybe under conditions that the Court will specify.

Practically speaking, waiting is often part of the process, as often many people wish to obtain the Court’s approval, and only one person present, the Judge, has the authority to:

  • Listen to your presentation,
  • Ensure that what you are asking for is consistent with the law, and
  • Approve it on society’s behalf.

D.  Probate Court Is Often Part of an Ex Parte Department — Read “Hectic”

King County has approximately 60 Superior Court Judges.  Three (3 / 60 = 5% of the total) are assigned to the Ex Parte Department.  The Ex Parte Department accounts for approximately 70% of all Orders entered by the King County Superior Court, approximately 1000 daily — 5% of the Judges hear 70% of the Petitions and Motions and sign 70% of the Orders.

Many Superior Courts, including the King, Pierce, and Snohomish County Superior Courts, assign probate matters together with a variety of other cases such as:

  • Adoptions,
  • Evictions, and
  • Temporary restraining orders …

to a branch of the Superior Court known as the Ex Parte Department.  The basic job of an Ex Parte Court is to hear large numbers of people’s requests in a short period of time and to dispose of them efficiently — read “quickly” — generally in no more than 5-10 minutes each.  If a case appears as if it will require more time, the Judge will transfer (“continue”) it to a trial Court, where it may languish for months before being heard and resolved.  The advantage of Ex Parte practice is that a Judge is available to hear and potentially approve your matter NOW — you don’t have to wait months for a trial Court to become available.  The disadvantage of Ex Parte practice is that you’ve got to present your case and satisfactorily answer all of the Court’s concerns in but 5 to 10 minutes.

This section of the website describes some of the organization that lawyers use to deal effectively with the hectic, volume practice seen in an Ex Parte Department.