Inside the Court Office

Georgia Estate planning attorney Mark Biernath and Cobb County probate Judge Kelli Wolk discuss what one might experience when filing for a guardianship.

Mr. Biernath: But the proposed ward has the right to be heard at the hearing.

Judge Wolk: Yes.

Mr. Biernath: It’s an absolute right. Also involved in all of this is the court. And when we refer to the court we refer both to the judge and the clerks. And Judge Wolk you can close your ears! When you deal with the clerks, be polite.

Judge Wolk: Why would I want to close my ears for that!

Mr. Biernath: It’s just, with the clerks, you don’t know who was just at the window before you got there and what they just did to the clerk. So that clerk might be a little heated and might be a little upset and might not be treating quite as nicely as you might wish to be treated. How many people love going to court? The lawyers and the judges in the room like going to court but most people are not comfortable with court, they’re not excited about being there, so often tensions are high and stress levels are high. Take a deep breath, it’s going to be to okay, everybody will get through it. It won’t help you one bit to chew out the clerk, in fact it might slow your case down to a crawl! I, as an attorney, have hoped to establish a pleasant relationship with the clerks because chances are I’m gong to be seeing them again. Guess what you get to do if you get named as the guardian. Every year you have to file reports with the clerk! And those clerks are there all of the time and they remember people. So just be nice.

Judge Wolk: And I tell my clerks, we talk about this, we frequently see people. We are in the probate court, we deal with descendants family, deal with people who are dealing with medical emergencies in their families, we deal with people who are filing accountings, or are being called into court against their will because they have messed one of those things up so we see people very realistically at some of the worst times in their life. We are the emergency room of the court system. So on daily basis my clerks, 17 of us total, run the probate court for 700,000 people in Cobb County who are generally not pleased with what we are saying to them or the circumstance that brought them to us. For eight hours a day and some cases 25-30 years these people have done this day in and day out. Sometimes despite their very best efforts they get a little tired and snippy, but we try not to do that, we try to put you all first. But please understand, just as I try to make them understand what you are going through when you come in, please understand what they’re going through on a day after day after day basis and try to come to a détente you and them. The other person that you might encounter is a court reporter and that freaks some people out because you come in and somebody is taking down every word or they do this [cover mouth with hand] and they are sitting right next to you. That really discombobulates some people. We are legally required to record it so are going to be either recorded by a tape recorder or a court reporter. In my court we have a court reporter and its just because we are legally required because we are taking away all of those rights, sort of like we have to appoint the attorney, it is purely to create a record. It’s not like we are trying to Ah Ha Matlock! you at the end of the hearing and say you are lying or anything like that. We are legally required to do it in every guardianship. That throws some people off because they think its just going to be more like a conversation across as desk with a judge kind of thing and typically it’s a hearing.

Mr. Biernath: Yes, you are actually in a court room but that record is sealed. Not any on in the world can walk into court and check the records like you can with divorces and all of that stuff.

Judge Wolk: Since 2005.