Appearing in Probate Court
- In the Courtroom
- When Your Case Is Called
- It’s Now “Showtime”
- Back at the Clerk’s Office
- If You Have just Been Appointed
A. In the Appropriate Courtroom
- Hand your original documents, including your proposed Order, to the Judge’s clerk, who will be at a desk next to the Judge, where the Judge and the clerk can easily pass files and papers back and forth between them. The Court may already be in session, some other party may then be appearing before the Court, and if so, the Judge will be hearing that party’s case; nevertheless, proceed, quietly, with your business with the clerk (clerks uniformly have a remarkable ability to keep dozens of balls up in the air without letting any of them hit the ground).
- As you hand the clerk your documents, tell the clerk what you have and what you want, for example, “I have a Petition for Letters and am here to be appointed as a Personal Representative.” The clerk will process your documents, pass them to the Judge, and will likely give you some idea of how long you will need to wait before your case is called. Cases are usually called on a “first come, first served” basis, but some cases may receive priority over others.
- Wait nearby, where you can hear the clerk or Judge when he/she calls your case. If you’re lucky, the Judge will be available to hear your case immediately, and you’ll be done in a few minutes. Otherwise, it might take 15-30 minutes, an hour, or more, all depending on how many people are there before you and the complexity of their cases, and particularly if any of them have any contested issues to be heard. In King County, the ex parte Judges (those who hear probate cases among others) attempt to limit contested matters to 10-15 minutes; if it appears that more time is needed, a contested case will usually be transferred (“continued”) to a later trial calendar.
B. When Your Case Is Called
- Acknowledge it immediately by announcing “Ready, your Honor” and then walking to the area in front of the Judge where people present their cases before the Court.
- In most Courts, the clerk will have taken your documents and handed them to the Judge, who will now be reviewing them while you walk up before the Court.
- Whatever the procedure of the particular Court (and every Court has its own procedure), after walking up before the Court, say, for example, “Good morning (or afternoon), your Honor — My name is […], and I am here requesting appointment as a Personal Representative.”
- Resist the urge to say any more.
- Let the Judge make the first call. Every Judge has his/her own way of doing things and eliciting what is important to him/her — let the Judge do what he/she has been elected or appointed to do and does all day. Rest assured, if the Judge has any questions, he/she will ask. Support the Judge by being quietly attentive.
C. It’s Now “Showtime”
Your author suggests taking a deep breath and, in your mind, turning the matter over to the Judge and letting him/her “run the show.”
- The Judge will likely ask you some questions.
- Respond as simply, directly, and concisely as possible;
- Minimize the detours, stories, explanations, etc.; and whatever you do,
- Tell the unvarnished truth — not what you think the Judge wants to hear, but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as you know it.
- While you are responding to a question, the Judge may interrupt you and ask something else.
- Stop !!
- Take a deep breath, pause, shift gears, re-engage mind, turn your attention to the new question, … and
- Respond to it as simply, directly, and concisely as possible.
- Sooner or later, the Judge will likely:
- Review your proposed Order,
- Sign it and either:
- Hand it and your other documents back to you directly, or
- Hand them to his/her clerk.
- If you are required to post Bond, hand your proposed Bond to the Judge for his/her:
- Review of it,
- Signature on it, and
- Return to you for filing.
- Say, “Thank you, your Honor.”
- Get the signed Order and other documents from the Judge or his/her clerk.
- Take them back to the Superior Court Clerk’s Office.
D. Back at the Superior Court Clerk’s Office
At the Clerk’s Office:
- Hand the filing clerk the signed Order and the other original documents.
- Obtain a certified copy of the signed Order.
- If you have just been appointed Personal Representative or Guardian, hand to the clerk:
- Your notarized Oath of Personal Representative or Oath of Guardian.
- Any Bond that was required (which you may have obtained before going to Court and had the Judge review and sign it — if not, then you’ll need to obtain one now and return to the Courtroom for the Judge’s review of it and signature on it).
- If you’re in a county that requires you to submit Letters, your Letters.
- Obtain a certified copy of your Letters.
- Make a conformed copy of every original document filed. At the King County Courthouse, the stamps for conforming documents are located on the shelf to the left of the Drop Box, on the other side of the aisle from the filing windows.
E. If You Have Just Been Appointed Decedent’s Personal Representative: Congratulations, It’s Now Official.
Now that you have been appointed:
- File any additional pleadings to begin your administration of the estate.
- If you have brought one, now is the time to file your Probate Notice to Creditors and, if you do so, get a conformed copy of it.
Filing a Probate Notice to Creditors.