Exactly where a court’s jurisdiction begins and ends is a question that has long irked our judicial system. One muddle is the extent to which federal courts, as opposed to state courts, can decide disputes involving a decedent’s estate.
The probate exception to federal jurisdiction reserves to state courts the probate or annulment of a will and the administration of a decedent’s estate. The exception also precludes federal courts from disposing of property in a state probate court’s custody. While outwardly straightforward, the exception continues to perplex judges.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took up the probate exception in Silk v. Bond, 65 F.4th 445 (9th Cir. 2023), a case involving a wealth advisor who sought to collect his fee. Spoiler alert: the probate exception may be narrower than you think.