Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293 (2006).

Estate Administration

Federal Probate Exception


The United States Supreme Court clarified the extent of the “probate exception” to federal jurisdiction by allowing a claim for tortious interference with an expectancy to go forward in federal court. The Court explained that “the Ninth Circuit * * * read the probate exception broadly to exclude from the federal courts’ adjudicatory authority ‘not only direct challenges to a will or trust, but also questions which would ordinarily be decided by a probate court in determining the validity of the decedent’s estate planning instrument.’ * * * The Court of Appeals further held that a State’s vesting of exclusive jurisdiction over probate matters in a special court strips federal courts of jurisdiction to entertain any ‘probate related matter,’ including claims respecting ‘tax liability, debt, gift, [or] tort.’” The Court then reversed holding that “the Ninth Circuit had no warrant from Congress, or from decisions of this Court, for its sweeping extension of the probate exception.”

Moral: A litigator must be prepared to argue probate matters in federal courts.