Certified Probate Real Estate Specialist, Kathleen Daniels attended a Zoom Meeting in March 2021 hosted by the Silicon Valley Bar Association. The meeting presenters were the two probate judges who discussed significant changes that affect attorneys and all court users in the Santa Clara County Probate Court in 2021.
Santa Clara County Probate Court | 2021 A Time of Great Transition
The Impact on the Santa Clara County Superior Court Since the Shelter-in-Place Order
|BEFORE THE ORDER||
CHANGES SINCE THE ORDER
- Less staff means fewer open courtrooms.
- Judges are working remotely or behind the scenes on defaults, settlement conferences, and status conferences that do not require a court appearance.
- Judges are also doing a number of ex parte hearings behind the scenes as well.
- Adding a second judge means more cases without a hearing will be processed behind the scenes.
A Second Full-Time Santa Clara County Probate Judge
During the pandemic when figuring out how to absorb so many changes, for the first time ever, a second full-time probate judge was added. The addition does not increase court sessions. The judges are handling more uncontested matters using only judicial resources.
Because of the loss of court hearings on Fridays, (reducing 20%) the court had to find a way to hear cases without increasing the backlog. The addition of a second probate judge is helping however it also seems to be adding confusion. Unfortunately, attorneys are showing up in the wrong department.
As of March 2021, the probate court has a new judicial schedule that tells people which department their hearing is in. Because of resource issues, the probate judges will never be on the bench at the same time.
The court staff is working over 100%. They are working on a more efficient process that will have less impact on the staff.
The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to impact probate real estate due to the backlog with the court.
Ex Parte Submission Process – A Pilot Court Process
It is not in the Local Rules yet. It will be a pilot program until it is made a Local Rule which is expected my happen in July 2021 or January 2022.
- Use the Court DropBox and cover sheet specifically designed for the ex parte process.
- Do not email or file for this process.
- When the documents are retrieved from the court DropBox, they are scanned, filed, fees taken, and sent by an electronic queue to the judge or probate attorney. All ex parte in this process is handled electronically, processed, and submitted through the queue.
- Once the judge receives through the queue, they are either granted, denied, or noted that additional information is needed.
- The judge completes a feedback form that was specifically developed for this process. The feedback form is provided to a filing clerk who emails the form to the attorney.
- If there is no email provided the form will be mailed. This is among the many reasons it is a good idea for attorneys to include their email on papers submitted to the court.
The court is working on an electronic process for ex parte matters. Documents need to be placed in DropBox located inside the court. The DropBox is checked every day.
Ex parte matters can still be submitted by mail however it will take longer, and a cover sheet is still needed. The clerks are swamped. Attorneys can help with efficiencies by including their email so the clerks can send an email.
Before the pandemic and budget cuts, the court had 4 clerks. After the pandemic, they have 2. Those two clerks are working double supporting 2 judges. The court is hoping the government will allocate more money in July which will help to get caught up. In the meantime, overtime funds in the budget are being used to help get caught up.
That will not change the fact that the biggest union associated with the court has furlough days every other Friday until the budget gets restored to what it was before the initial cut.
Other Changes in the Santa Clara County Probate Court in 2021
- Judges have access to the e-filing queue.
- All ex parte is filed before review.
- Documents can now be filed and a hearing set without a Notice of Hearing. If at the time of the hearing, a Notice of Hearing was not prepared and served, it will be continued.
- Judges can review the calendar.
- Exclusively using Microsoft Teams. No more Court calls. Can appear by video or by phone on MS Teams.
- There is a link on the court website to access the hearing calendar.
Use the probate schedule created by the two probate judges effective March 1, 2021, to first find the department then go to the Santa Clara County court website to get information on how to access the hearing. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where the Probate Department (5 and 13) Teams Links and conference phone numbers are located.
Be sure to click the correct link – either for the AM hearing or the PM hearing. The links are updated once a week.
As will all Zoom meetings, there are best practices to follow. The best practices may also be found on the court website.
While preparing this post, Kathleen Daniels decided to “test” how MS teams are working with the court. She logged on as a guest to the Department 5 AM hearings on April 26, 2021.
Between the echo in the room and the judge wearing a mask, the sound does need improvement. The video in the courtroom was good. There was one attorney sitting in the room waiting for their case to be called. All other attorneys appeared remotely, some by video and others by phone.
The courtroom is set up with plexiglass and sanitizer. The only other people in the courtroom that morning were the Sheriff’s Bailiff, the Judge, the court staff probate attorney, and the court clerk.
Kathleen is impressed with how far the court has come since the COVID-19 pandemic. While the court backlog is unacceptable to many, it is evident that the court is doing all that it can to move the cases through the system.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Drop Box
The Court DropBox is a useful tool to help expedite the filing and processing of court cases.
What goes to the DropBox at the Court?
- Original Will until the clerk’s office reopens.
- Original Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration.
- Ex Parte matters.
- Include a self-addressed stamped envelope so documents can be returned by mail. If no envelope is provided request copies from the clerk’s office, not the probate department.
The Judges provided a list of ex parte Petitions with consent and waiver of notice that gets submitted directly to the Judges that include certain estate petitions. Conservatorship and guardianship of the estate petitions, as well as a list of miscellaneous matters.
Also on the list are certain Estate, Trust, Guardianship, and Conservatorship petitions that get submitted to the staff Probate Attorney and matters that get submitted to the Probate Examiner and/or Volunteer Attorney.
Santa Clara County Probate Court | Probate Real Estate Services
The one thing that is certain in our minds at Need Probate Help is that things will continue to shift, pivot, and change with the court process as it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has most certainly impacted the probate process in terms of how long probate takes in Santa Clara County and selling a probate home.
Possible Silver Lining
Once we move through the COVID-19 pandemic we will likely see a new normal with the probate court. Perhaps a more efficient process will be created and adopted.
If you need help selling a home in probate contact Certified Probate Real Estate Specialist, Kathleen Daniels. Let her years of experience, training, and education go to work for you. She is familiar with the Santa Clara County Probate Court process and she works closely with the client’s probate attorney to ensure a smooth process with the sale of real property.