Trusts and Estates

Capra v. Capra

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Cite as C084032
Filed December 12, 2020
Third District

By Jaime B. Herren
Holland & Knight LLP

Headnotes:     Probate Court – Jurisdiction – Venue

Summary: The trial court improperly dismissed for lack of exclusive jurisdiction of the probate court where the decedent’s trust no longer held the property in dispute and his probate had closed in another county 27 years ago.

Frank and Lucille Capra owned a cabin on federal land in Mono County, along with a Forest Service use permit.  They created the Capra Family Trust (“Trust”) for the benefit of their three children, Frank Jr., Lucille Jr., and Thomas.  The cabin was not placed in the Trust.  Following the settlors’ deaths the three became co-trustees and probated Frank Sr.’s estate in Riverside County. As part of the order of final distribution in 1993, the cabin and permit were distributed to the Trust.  To comply with Forest Service regulations only one trustee could be named on the permit, and the co-trustees agreed to name Thomas because he resided in Los Angeles County and Lucille resided outside of California.  Until 2015, all generations of the Capra family continued to use the cabin recreationally and shared expenses.  In September 2015, Thomas took sole possession of the cabin and closed and emptied the bank account used for cabin expenses.  Lucille filed an action under Probate Code sections 850 and 17200 in Los Angeles County but, after Thomas threatened to move for sanctions, stipulated to transfer the case to Mono County.  Thereafter, the Mono County trial court sustained Thomas’ third demurrer, holding that it did not have jurisdiction because Frank’s estate was probated in Riverside County Superior Court, which had exclusive jurisdiction under Probate Code section 17000, and dismissed the action. 

The appellate court reversed.  Mono County trial court has fundamental jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter.  Frank Sr.’s probate in Riverside County distributed the cabin to the Trust and closed 27 years ago, and that court did not retain any jurisdiction.  Further, jurisdiction under Probate Code section 1700 is exclusive only against other departments in the same county; whereas county selection is governed by venue rules.  Because the pleadings are ambiguous, the appellate court remanded for a factual determination of whether the action is one over land, which must be brought where the land is located, or an action challenging the internal affairs of a trust, which must be brought at the principal place of administration.

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