Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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When we think of probate court, most of us think of the court that handles the settlement of an estate when someone dies. You hear about executors and Will contests, and while there is certainly a lot of that, many probate courts handle so much more depending on the state, and even the jurisdiction where the court presides. And probate court may be called by other names in different states. For example, in New York the probate court is known as the Surrogate’s Court, while in California, it is the Probate Division of the Superior Court that has the responsibility to deal with probate matters.

Besides estate issues, most probate courts handle conservatorship and guardianship matters.

Conservatorship is a proceeding where the court appoints an individual to protect and manage the affairs of someone (an adult) who is not capable of managing his or her own affairs due to incompetence because of mental or physical disability.

Guardianship is a legal proceeding where the court appoints an individual to care for a minor child if his or her parent(s) are no longer alive or no longer able to care for him or her. A Guardianship takes away the parents’ rights to make decisions about their child’s life, but does not permanently terminate parental rights.

Some probate courts deal with matters of commitment of mentally ill adults and children, oversight of trust accounts, performance of marriages, issuance of passports, changes of name, partition of property, and even issuance of firearms licenses.

In a few jurisdictions, probate courts are combined with family court (many in Massachusetts, for example) and handle marriage, divorce, adoption, foster care placement, permanent termination of parental rights, paternity claims, etc.

In some states, such as Georgia, probate courts may even hold habeas corpus hearings (to determine if a prisoner is being held in prison lawfully), or preside over criminal preliminary hearings. Probate court judges in Georgia may also hear certain misdemeanors, traffic cases and violations of state fish and game laws in counties where there is no state court.

Click here for more information on probate and probate courts.