The National College of Probate Judges is negotiating an agreement with the National Judicial College to provide all judges with a better understanding of the probate process and probate jurisdiction.
Cases involving the most vulnerable members of society fill up a probate court’s docket. Shelton Probate Judge Fred Anthony says his desire to help children, adults ravaged by dementia and people with intellectual disabilities was part of the reason he ran for — and won election — as the 2014-15 president of the National College of Probate Judges.
Having a national organization dedicated to educating probate judges and improving probate courts is important in modern America, Anthony said.
“We live in a mobile society,” Anthony said. As probate judges, “we often encounter cases in which someone [with business before the court] has an elderly relative in another state.” And because probate judges network with each other as part of the National College, they can call upon the assistance of out-of-state colleagues in cases that cross jurisdictions, he said.
“Having a network of judges who handle similar cases across the county makes it easier for all the judges to serve the people who come before them,” said Anthony, who was elected president-elect of the National College last fall.
After he is sworn in as president in November 2014, one of Anthony’s goals is to grow the membership of the organization. One way to do that is to attract non-probate jurists. The National College of Probate Judges is negotiating an agreement with the National Judicial College to provide all judges with a better understanding of the probate process and probate jurisdiction. It’s hoped that once regular judges are exposed to probate caselaw that they will want to avail themselves to the more in-depth opportunities to study probate law provided by the National College.
The national probate organization provides “a perspective on how other judges handle similar cases … and certainly the opportunity to observe courtroom procedures and administrative procedures in other jurisdictions, all to the benefit to bringing those improvements to the local court I serve,” Anthony said.
One thing that Anthony has brought back to his probate courtroom from the National College of Probate Judges is the need for professional assessment of courtroom security.
Another thing Anthony has learned from the larger organization is the need to have stronger review and supervision of the court-appointed guardians who oversee children, people with intellectual disabilities or elderly people with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Connecticut’s probate jurisdiction includes estates, conservatorships of adults, guardianships of people with intellectual disabilities, custody cases involving neglected and abused children, adoptions and trusts, Anthony said.
The college also has been involved in forming national probate-court standards like the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act, Anthony said. The act’s intent is to assist in intrastate conservatorship matters, Anthony said.
Prior to becoming a probate judge in 1994, Anthony’s private legal practice included probate cases. One of the trends in probate law has been the effort to modernize the courts, including more stringent statutory requirements about the appointments of conservators, Anthony said.
Another trend in probate law, Anthony said, is ensuring that children are placed in safe homes and having families get more control over the future of children subject to the court’s jurisdiction. That includes appointing relatives as conservators or placing neglected or abused children with other relatives, he said. “We work to empower families to help them take care of their own,” Anthony said.
The National College of Probate Judges, which has approximately 400 members, meets twice a year. In 2014, the judges will meet in Colorado and Florida. In the spring of 2015, the judges will meet in Rhode Island.
Anthony has served on the National College’s executive committee since 2008, and he also was chair of the college’s curriculum and a member of the college’s faculty. He will serve his president-elect year by assisting National College President Michael Wood, a probate judge from Houston.•