Probate Courts

A probate court is a specialized court that handles the probate or proving of wills, administers the estate (property) of a deceased person, appoints guardians for minors and incapacitated adults, and orders the involuntary hospitalization of persons in need of medical treatment. In some states, the probate court also deals with such issues as terminating parental rights and approving adoptions. Some probate courts also issue marriage licenses and grant name changes. The probate court in New York and several other states is called the surrogate’s court. Ohio has a probate division in the common pleas court, which is the trial level court in Ohio.

Wills and Estates

If a person who dies has a will, the will is turned over to the probate court so that the person’s assets can be transferred to his or her heirs. The probate court appoints a personal representative to handle the estate of the deceased person. The probate court oversees the administration of the estate. The probate court interprets the language in the will. If anyone contests or challenges the will, the probate court decides if the will is valid.

If a person who dies does not have a valid will, the laws of the state specify who is to inherit the deceased person’s property. These laws are called the laws of intestate succession.


A guardian is a person assigned by the probate court to take care of minor children or handle affairs of incapacitated adults over the age of 18 who suffer from mental or physical disability. Guardians are appointed for individuals who lack the ability to take care of their personal affairs. The guardian is responsible for deciding where the ward (a person for whom a guardian has been appointed) lives and provides for the ward’s care and maintenance.

Involuntary Hospitalization

If an application for involuntary hospitalization is filed with the probate court, the court holds a hearing on whether to hospitalize the person. Most states provide for involuntary commitment when a person is mentally ill, drug dependent or developmentally disabled or when the person is a danger to himself or herself or others.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.