Friday, December 13, 2019
Under the Probate Exception, federal courts are barred from litigating certain aspects of probate suits, including: the probate of a will, the annulment of a will, determining the beneficiaries under a will, disposing of property that is under the jurisdiction of a state probate court, and appointing or removing a representative of an estate. However, there are certain issues that federal courts are not barred from hearing, including the validity of an inter vivos trust, the validity of a pay on death designation for a bank account, and the validity of the designation of a beneficiary under a life insurance policy.
Harken back to your 1L civil procedure days and you will remember that to have federal jurisdiction, the suit is also required to have diversity jurisdiction, meaning that all plaintiffs must be citizens of different states than all of the defendants. The dispute must also concern an amount greater than $75,000.
Several doctrines also prevent federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over particular cases. The Younger Abstention Doctrine prevents a federal court form taking a suit that interferes with actions being undertaken by a state agency. The Colorado River Abstention Doctrine allows a federal court to dismiss a matter when a concurrent state proceeding provides a more appropriate forum. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine holds that lower United States federal courts (not the United States Supreme Court) should not sit in direct review of state court decisions, absent a specific jurisdictional grant of legislative authority.
See How to Litigate an Inheritance Dispute in Federal Court, Probate Stars.