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January 19, 2024

Views from the Bench: A “Probate Judge’s” New Year’s Resolutions

Hon. Selena E. Molina
The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal Vol. 44; Issue 3.

For me, January 2, 2024 marked five years on the bench. Five years of status conferences, discovery disputes, oral argument, and trials. Five years of issuing oral and written rulings. And five years of a heavy docket and driving determination to do justice. Moving into 2024 and the (hopefully) many years to come, a few resolutions spring to mind.

First, I resolve to connect more personally to those I serve. Presiding over adult guardianships, I am often called upon to address concerns about the person with a disability’s living situation, disputes about the most appropriate placement, and competing claims made by facilities and family members. Zoom has allowed me to see into some residents’ rooms and I have heard hours of testimony from dedicated facility staff, but I have never personally visited any of the facilities that serve aging Delawareans. In 2024, I am going to change that. Through the connections I have made as my court’s designee on Delaware’s Non-Acute Long-Stay Patient Task Force, I will visit several long-term care facilities this year. What I witness and learn will better inform my decision making as I work to protect Delawareans in need.

Second, I resolve to think proactively about Delaware’s guardianship processes and advocate for necessary change and growth. As a Commissioner for the Commission on Law & Aging, I have access to, and can make deep connections with, aging practitioners and advocates throughout the country. I am also the Delaware State Representative for the National College of Probate Judges, another organization through which I can learn from my colleagues in other jurisdictions. This year, I plan to work actively within these organizations and bring what I learn to Delaware. I expect to do so through the Court of Chancery Rules Committee, wherein I chair the Guardianships, Trusts, and Estates Subcommittee, and the Delaware Guardianship Commission, where I serve as my court’s representative.

Third, I resolve to seek first to understand. Probate judges are often thrust into personal, family disputes. We are called upon to direct how someone’s finances should be managed, how someone’s estate should be distributed, and how someone should be cared for when they can no longer make those decisions for themselves. It is far too easy to think, from the elevation of the bench, that one knows best. But we, as probate judges, must seek first to understand: What life has the person before me lived? What are their values and guiding principles? I resolve to take a person-centric approach and do my best to make decisions that not only serve the person with a disability’s best interest, but that align (as much as possible) with their wishes. Rather than ask, “how would I want my property handled,” I will ask: “how would I want my property handled if I was this person, who has lived this unique and important life?”

Fourth, I resolve to listen more than I speak. At a 2023 training by the National Judicial College, I learned a helpful acronym—WAIT—“Why am I talking?” It implores judges to remember their role on the bench. We are there to listen, to digest the arguments before us, and to rule based on applicable law and principles of equity. The bench is not a soapbox. In 2024, I’ll save my shining moments for the stage.

Which brings me to my fifth and final resolution, I resolve to continue pursuing my passions, off the bench. I will continue to serve on the board of Profundo Bono, Delaware’s theater company composed entirely of judges, lawyers, and other legal professionals. In 2024, we will produce and present my original musical based (loosely) on the novel Anna Karenina, providing an artistic outlet for all of us involved and raising funds for Delaware’s three legal services agencies. And I will take the time I need to enjoy my life outside chambers. Stepping away, engaging in creative outlets and spending quality time with the ones I love, will give me greater perspective, and allow me to reflect on the important work I perform in the courtroom. It will make me a better public servant and I will be fresh, engaged, and fully committed each day to serve and protect Delaware’s most vulnerable communities.

I start 2024 optimistic. I hope all readers do, too. May you find fulfillment and purpose this year and may my fifth year on the bench be the best one yet! 

Hon. Selena E. Molina

Magistrate in Chancery on the Delaware Court of Chancery

The Honorable Selena E. Molina is a Magistrate in Chancery on the Delaware Court of Chancery. In that role, Magistrate Molina presides over a wide variety of civil actions, many that touch on aging, including adult guardianships, power-of-attorney disputes, and disputes regarding wills, trusts, and estates. 

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