A group of people picketed April 8 at the Berkeley Probate Court, protesting that the court is seizing the property and money of a number of the inheritances and assets of elderly African Americans.
Maxine Ussery, one of the protesters, is being personally affected. She said, “We the elderly, senior citizens and African Americans are being targeted, and our basic inheritance and property are being stolen from us by the probate court.
“And they are not accountable to anyone.”
During the start of World War II by the attack on Pearl Harbor, African-Americans began to move to the San Francisco Bay Area and Oakland, in particular, where they began to establish businesses serving the community.
A number of the small business owners were able to save and build up some ownership of property and other assets.
The protesters said the assets that those from the “Pearl Harbor Generation” acquired should be left to their children or families through a Will or Living Trust Document.
Instead, those who have inherited the estates are finding themselves tied up in the Probate Court facing confiscation.
“They make major decisions about our lives and inheritances, and they have the ability to take it and put their names on it and sell it. And then they disperse the proceeds to whoever they want” said Ussery.
One of the ways the Probate Court is able to insert itself into matters of inheritance is when there is a dispute between heirs or their legal representatives over the Will or Living Trust.
“If two siblings are arguing about who should be in charge and there is no will, the court takes over and claims responsibility,” said Ussery.
The dispute serves as a justification to retain a court appointed attorney from a list of 25 attorneys, which is maintained by the Alameda County Probate Court. Almost all of the lawyers on the list are white.
The protesters are asking that the Probate Court be investigated. “This court has been given total control over people’s lives and property,” said Mrs. Ussery. “They force you to get a lawyer. We don’t get to speak up.”
“Both my friend, my brother and I were all told by the same judge to shut up, or we would be held in contempt of court,” she said.
The court essentially is taking away people’s property and saying they are not competent enough to be in control of them,” she said. “The lawyers and judges are the ones becoming the realtors. They sell our properties and don’t have to report much they made.”
For information contact the Alameda County Probate Court Reform Movement at (831) 238-0096 or email [email protected]