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Bar Journal - Winter 2007

The Legacy of Probate Administrative Judge John R. Maher

By:

Editor’s Note: Attorney DeGrandpre was asked to write this article on the occasion of the retirement on January 1, 2007, of Probate Court Administrative Judge John R. Maher.

The contributions of Probate Judge John R. Maher to New Hampshire’s probate practice and procedure are significant and will be long-lasting. His 23-year tenure as a probate judge and then as the administrative judge of the probate courts came at a time of stress for our probate court system. In those years, the Supreme Court issued the new standards for compensation of executors and attorneys in probate matters in the Rolfe Case1, confronted the aftershocks of the Fairbanks embezzlements, and suffered the stress, as did all our courts, of the impeachment proceedings at the turn of the new century.

Throughout it all, our probate court system has become better, more streamlined and uniform, and more user-friendly to both private citizens and practicing attorneys. It was Judge Maher’s vision that the probate procedure and administration of estates needed to be substantially simplified and improved, or else the system would eventually be bypassed by the use of funded revocable trusts. And he succeeded in streamlining the probate process.

He engineered a compromise between the superior and probate courts, and in 1993, the Omnibus Justice Act2 granting exclusive jurisdiction to the probate courts over certain matters, was made effective. At the local level, he issued Administrative Bulletins and Circulars to unify and clarify probate practices throughout the state. By the enactment and subsequent broadening of the waiver of administration procedures, he made the probate system much simpler for the majority of the estates that are left in the hands of surviving spouses or children, and when they are the primary beneficiaries of the estate.

He lobbied for and obtained more full-time probate judgeships, thereby making more room for the trial of contested probate cases. He convened an informal advisory committee of probate attorneys, paralegals and trust officers who, on an annual basis, reviewed probate laws and authored legislation for consideration by the legislature to improve and bring our probate system current with modern standards.

Probably the culmination of Judge Maher’s accomplishments can be cited by the enactment of the Uniform Trust Code3, effective October 1, 2004, and the Trust Modernization and Competitive Act of 2006. Both of these major pieces of legislation statutorily codified the skimpy law of trusts that New Hampshire had to deal with up to that point.

I had many opportunities to try cases before Judge Maher and to work with him on his advisory committees. It was a trip to testify with him on major pieces of probate legislation coming before the legislature. I think he loved that part of his job the most. He was an expert at persuading legislators to support his positions.

My favorite memory of testifying with Judge Maher came from an event several years ago when he appeared before a House committee that included several young legislators. Judge Maher, in his talk, for some reason still unclear to me, made a reference to the Kingston Trio; as he looked up, he realized that there were some on the committee who had never heard of the Kingston Trio. At this point, Judge Maher sought to remind them of their famous hit, “Scotch & Soda,” by rendering a few bars of it for the committee. It was audacious and it disarmed us all.

Endnotes

1. 136 N.H. 294, 615 A.2d 625 (1992).

2. RSA 547:3.

3. RSA 563-B.


Author
Attorney Charles A. DeGrandpre is a director and treasurer in the firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, P.A., Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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