May 16, 2014

Filing a Probate Petition - Venue

When filing a lawsuit against the trustee of a revocable trust, such needs to be done in the appropriate venue. That is, the petition has to be filed in the appropriate superior court. Otherwise the lawsuit cannot be heard because the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case. For instance, a disgruntled beneficiary in San Francisco cannot file a petition to have the trustee removed in San Francisco County Superior simply because they live there. The petitioner needs to comply with the venue requirement when filing the petition. 

California law dictates that the appropriate venue is the county where the trust’s principal place of administration is located.
Probate Code §17005(a)(1). In practice, this is often the trustee's home address or their attorney's office address. Also, when a beneficiary has received a Probate Code §16061.7 notice, such is required to list the principal place of administration of the trust. Probate Code §16061.7(g)(3). 

For example, assume that Bobby Beneficiary, a resident of Los Gatos, CA, is a residual beneficiary of the trust estate of Samuel Settlor. The successor trustee is Thomas Trustee, a resident of Oakland, CA. Samuel's trust estate solely consists of a home in Bolinas, CA. From the facts given, a petition by Bobby against Thomas as trustee would need to be filed  in Alameda County Superior Court rather than Santa Clara or Marin County Superior Court. The reason being is that Thomas' home would be the location for the trust's principal place of administration.

While venue might seem like an afterthought, the superior court in which the petition is filed can be relevant. First, certain probate courts have smaller dockets than others. One county might be able to hear the petition in 6-8 weeks while another county might take 12 weeks. Second, the probate judge in a particular county might be more or less receptive to certain petitions than other counties. For instance, some judges are apt to routinely grant Heggstad petitions, while other judges are much more demanding. Third, there is the time and expense of having to travel to a particular courthouse to file the petition. From the above example, it would be much more convenient for Bobby to file the petition in Santa Clara County than in Alameda County. It is about 15 minutes from downtown Los Gatos to the probate court in Santa Clara County, 191 N 1st Street, San Jose. Whereas it is about 1 hour, without traffic, from downtown Los Gatos to the probate court in Alameda County, 2120 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley.  This travel time is compounded if Bobby has to attend multiple hearings. Fourth, the written (and unwritten) local rules of each particular probate court differ. Hence if Bobby hires an attorney based in Los Gatos, he or she might be very familiar with the local rules of Santa Clara County but maybe not the local rules of Alameda County.