Section 850 of Calif. Probate Code Does Not Apply to Communications, Documents

A California Court of Appeal finds that a former conservatoree’s request for the documents and communications of the past conservator of her estate was unsuitable under Section 850 of the Probate Code. In Cynthia Parker v. Kim Schwarcz (Cal. Ct. App., No. PRO-2100630, October 19, 2022).

Claiming their mother could not handle her finances, Cynthia Parker’s daughters petitioned the probate court for a conservator of her estate in March 2021. After the initial hearing, the probate court designated a professional fiduciary advisor, Kim Schwarcz, as a temporary conservator of the estate.

In September that year, Ms. Parker and her daughters settled the case. Ms. Parker agreed to transfer her assets into an irrevocable trust as a less restrictive option to guardianship. The court approved the settlement and ended the temporary conservatorship in November.

Seeking access to the communications of the former conservator and any individuals with the estate as well as documents pertaining to the conservatorship, Ms. Parker petitioned the court for the return of property and declaratory relief under Section 850 of the Probate Code.

A claimant can recover real or personal property in the guardian or conservator’s possession under Section 850 subdivision (a)(1)(C). Communications and documents fall under the meaning of personal property under this section, Ms. Parker argued. Yet the probate court disagreed, holding that Section 850 did not allow her request and denying her request for declaratory relief.

The appellate court agrees. The communications and documents Ms. Parker sought were not personal property under Section 850 subdivision (a)(1)(C). Interpreting the statute, the court concludes that there is no precedent supporting construing communications and documents as personal property, and the legislature intended the personal property in subdivision (a)(1)(C) to refer to assets of an estate. It is improper to use Section 850 as a quasi-discovery request.

As for Ms. Parker’s request for declaratory relief, she did not provide an argument beyond her Section 850 claim. The court declines to decide whether Ms. Parker is entitled to the documents and communications through another legal means, limiting its holding to Section 850.

Read the opinion in full.