As the probate judge of Valencia County, I preside in an informal setting, a personal representative for an estate of a decedent, conduct marriages, allow for burial arraignments, allow access for heirs to obtain medical records — just to name a few.
Valencia County has two probate courts. One conducts formal and informal proceeding, which is held at the 13th Judicial District Court; the other is the Valencia County Probate Court. Having been on the bench now for more than five years, the probate court has a high amount of cases filed.
One would think since the county is growing at such a rapid rate that this is the reason. While this is the case, other factors have contributed to this. One such factor is the thousands of lots on the east side of the county. These lots once owned by Valley Improvement Association have been sold since the 1970s. The majority of land owners were from out of state and moving up in age and are now passing away. This has caused family members to try to transfer these lots out of the deceased person’s name.
Getting back to appointing personal representatives in the probate court: Unlike the district court, probate court has forms for heirs to fill out to be appointed. The jurisdiction in the probate court is very limited.
Heirs of the deceased must either have a will that appoints a personal representative, or all heirs must agree on someone to be appointed. If the will is contested or if the heirs don’t agree, then the case will have to be heard at the district court level.
District court judges have general jurisdiction and conduct evidentiary hearings. The size of the estate or number of heirs isn’t a factor in where the case can be filed. Citizens file in the probate court as opposed to district for a variety of reasons, such as time and money. The probate court is quick and informal; it has standard, statewide-approved forms, is more user friendly and has cheaper filing fees.
When I first took office, I didn’t realize the need for marriage ceremonies in the county. As a judge, I also conduct marriage ceremonies. This helps to alleviate the burden from the other courts in the county. I schedule up to four ceremonies a week; I have had to cap each week at four to allow time for court proceeding.
It is hard for couples to find non-religious officials to conduct them without having long wait times. I have heard couples from other counties waiting a few months to schedule a civil ceremony. Some of the weddings are as simple as signing the license and others are quite elaborate. Some fun ones I have done are themed weddings.
I once did a “Nightmare Before Christmas” wedding, where everyone dressed up with yours truly as the mayor. They even had Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus just like in the movie. What I like about these ceremonies it’s such a happy time in peoples’ lives and I am happy to be a part of it.
Another duty the court conducts is allowing loved ones to have medical records released. Due to federal regulations, heirs, such as spouses, cannot request medical records. An example of an heir needing a record is, insurance companies will require them to determine if the death was accidental and allow payment of a policy.
I regularly receive requests for loved ones to make arraignments for burial needs. Sometimes a person passes with no directive and heirs cannot be located. I can order an heir to allow for burial arraignments so the deceased isn’t waiting in state for a long period of time.
As you can see the probate court has many tasks it does and performs. I have been honored to be your probate judge for the past five years, and look forward to the next three.
(Valencia County Probate Judge Jamie Goldberg is currently serving his second term. He is a certified court manager through the National Center for State Courts. He is retired from the 13th Judicial District Court as CEO, and is currently a part-time probate judge and real estate broker. He has been married for 27 years to Sandra Goldberg, and they have two children.)