Probate court

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A probate court (sometimes called a surrogate court) is a court that has competence in a jurisdiction to deal with matters of probate and the administration of estates. [1] In some jurisdictions, such courts may be referred to as Orphans' Courts [2] or courts of ordinary. In some jurisdictions probate court functions are performed by a chancery court or another court of equity, or as a part or division of another court.


Probate courts administer proper distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died), adjudicates the validity of wills, enforces the provisions of a valid will (by issuing the grant of probate), prevents malfeasance by executors and administrators of estates, and provides for the equitable distribution of the assets of persons who die intestate (without a valid will), such as by granting a grant of administration giving judicial approval to the personal representative to administer matters of the estate.

In contested matters, the probate court examines the authenticity of a will and decides who is to receive the deceased person's property. In a case of an intestacy, the court determines who is to receive the deceased's property under the law of its jurisdiction. The probate court will then oversee the process of distributing the deceased's assets to the proper beneficiaries. A probate court can be petitioned by interested parties in an estate, such as when a beneficiary feels that an estate is being mishandled. The court has the authority to compel an executor to give an account of their actions.

In some jurisdictions (e.g. Texas) probate courts also handle other matters, such as guardianships, trusts, and mental health issues (including the authority to order involuntary commitment to psychiatric facilities and involuntary administering psychiatric medication).

Orphans' Court

An Orphans' Court was an organization established in the Chesapeake Bay American colonies during colonization. The major goal of the organization was to protect orphaned children and their right to their deceased family member's estate from claims and against abuses by stepparents and others.

Today, at least in Maryland [3] [4] [2] and in Pennsylvania, probate courts are still called Orphans' Courts, for historical reasons, hearing matters involving wills of deceased estates which are contested and supervising estates which are probated judicially. [5]

Register of Probate

A Register of Probate is an elected position in some jurisdictions in the United States, such as New Hampshire, [6] Massachusetts, [7] and Maine [8] (part of Massachusetts before 1820). Register of Wills is an elected position in jurisdictions such as Maryland.

The Registrar and staff administer the local Probate Court, typically for a given county, acting partly as public customer service and partly as clerks for the probate judge (who may or may not be elected).

List of probate courts

The following is a partial list of probate courts:

England and Wales

State courts of the United States


Related Research Articles

The courts of England and Wales, supported administratively by His Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, are the civil and criminal courts responsible for the administration of justice in England and Wales.

Probate Proving of a will

Probate is the judicial process whereby a will is "proved" in a court of law and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased, or whereby the estate is settled according to the laws of intestacy in the state of residence of the deceased at time of death in the absence of a legal will.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Holographic will</span> Handwritten and signed will and testament

A holographic will, or olographic testament, is a will and testament which is a holographic document, i.e. it has been entirely handwritten and signed by the testator. Historically, a will had to be signed by witnesses attesting to the validity of the testator's signature and intent, but in many jurisdictions, holographic wills that have not been witnessed are treated equally to witnessed wills and need only to meet minimal requirements in order to be probated:

The High Court of Ireland is a court which deals at first instance with the most serious and important civil and criminal cases. When sitting as a criminal court it is called the Central Criminal Court and sits with judge and jury. It also acts as a court of appeal for civil cases in the Circuit Court. It also has the power to determine whether or not a law is constitutional, and of judicial review over acts of the government and other public bodies.

New York Surrogates Court

The Surrogate's Court of the State of New York handles all probate and estate proceedings in the New York State Unified Court System. All wills are probated in this court and all estates of people who die without a will are handled in this court. Unclaimed property of the deceased without wills is handled by the Judge of this court. It also handles adoptions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Superior Court of the District of Columbia</span> Trial court for the District of Columbia

The Superior Court of the District of Columbia, commonly referred to as DC Superior Court, is the trial court for the District of Columbia, in the United States. It hears cases involving criminal and civil law, as well as family court, landlord and tenant, probate, tax and driving violations. All appeals of Superior Court decisions go to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

The New Hampshire Circuit Court District Division is the "community court" of the U.S. state of New Hampshire, made up of one circuit for each County and is located in 36 cities and towns. The District Division has jurisdiction over all juvenile matters, domestic violence cases, violation and misdemeanor level offenses, small claims, landlord-tenant issues and other civil cases. Upon the creation of the District Court in 1963, the state Municipal Courts were effectively abolished. On July 1, 2011, the New Hampshire Circuit Court was created and consolidated the District Courts with the Probate Court and Family Division.

New Hampshire Probate Court in the U.S. state of New Hampshire, is the court which has jurisdiction over trusts, wills, and estates, adoptions, termination of parental rights, name changes, guardianship of incapacitated persons, guardianship of minors, partition of property and involuntary admissions. Each of the ten counties has a probate court. Full-time judges assigned to Belknap, Hillsborough, Merrimack, Rockingham and Strafford counties, with the remaining counties having part-time judges.

The Superior Court is the state court in the U.S. state of New Jersey, with statewide trial and appellate jurisdiction. The New Jersey Constitution of 1947 establishes the power of the New Jersey courts. Under the State Constitution, "'judicial power shall be vested in a Supreme Court, a Superior Court, County Courts and inferior courts of limited jurisdiction.'" The Superior Court has three divisions: the Appellate Division is essentially an intermediate appellate court while the Law and Chancery Divisions function as trial courts. The State Constitution renders the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division the intermediate appellate court, and "[a]ppeals may be taken to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court from the law and chancery divisions of the Superior Court and in such other causes as may be provided by law." Each division is in turn divided into various parts. "The trial divisions of the Superior Court are the principal trial courts of New Jersey. They are located within the State's various judicial geographic units, called 'vicinages,' R. 1:33-2(a), and are organized into two basic divisions: the Chancery Division and the Law Division".

The New York City court system consists of the several citywide and state courts.

The First Judicial District is the judicial body governing the county of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. It consists of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and the Philadelphia Municipal Court.

Connecticut Superior Court

The Connecticut Superior Court is the state trial court of general jurisdiction. It hears all matters other than those of original jurisdiction of the Probate Court, and hears appeals from the Probate Court. The Superior Court has 13 judicial districts which have at least one courthouse and one geographical area court. Civil cases, administrative appeals, family matters, and serious criminal offenses are generally heard in a judicial district courthouse. All criminal arraignments, misdemeanors, felonies, and motor vehicle violations that require a court appearance are heard in one of the 20 geographical area courts.

The Judiciary of Vermont is the state court system of Vermont, charged with Vermont law.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Judiciary of New York (state)</span>

The Judiciary of New York is the judicial branch of the Government of New York, comprising all the courts of the State of New York.

Circuit Court of Cook County

The Circuit Court of Cook County is the largest of the 24 judicial circuits in Illinois as well as one of the largest unified court systems in the United States — second only in size to the Superior Court of Los Angeles County since that court merged with other courts in 1998.

The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania is the unified state court system of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Ohio Courts of Common Pleas are the trial courts of the state court system of Ohio.

The Circuit Courts of Maryland are the state trial courts of general jurisdiction in Maryland. They are Maryland's highest courts of record exercising original jurisdiction at law and in equity in all civil and criminal matters, and have such additional powers and jurisdiction as conferred by the Maryland Constitution of 1867 as amended, or by law. The Circuit Courts also preside over divorce and most family law matters. Probate and estate matters are handled by a separate Orphans' Court. The Circuit Courts are the only Maryland state courts empowered to conduct jury trials.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">High Court of Justice</span> One of the Senior Courts of England and Wales

The High Court of Justice in London, known properly as His Majesty's High Court of Justice in England, together with the Court of Appeal and the Crown Court, are the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Its name is abbreviated as EWHC for legal citation purposes.


  1. "SURROGATE'S COURT" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 May 2017. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  2. 1 2 "The History of the Orphans' Court in Maryland | Maryland Courts".
  3. [ bare URL PDF ]
  4. "Orphans' Court | Maryland Courts".
  5. 1 2 Maryland Courts, About the Orphans' Court Archived 2017-12-12 at the Wayback Machine
  6. "". Archived from the original on 2021-12-30. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  7. "A Look at the Bottom of the Ballot: Register of Probate | WGBH News". Archived from the original on 2015-01-16. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  8. "Washington County Probate Court". Archived from the original on 2013-01-22. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  9. "Local Trial Court Links". Archived from the original on 2008-12-16. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  10. "Court of Common Pleas Orphans' Court Division @ The Philadelphia Courts—First Judicial District of Pennsylvania". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  11. "Captcha". Retrieved 21 March 2018.