Probate Court is a type of court that handles matters relating to the probate of wills as well as estate administration.  Also called a “Surrogate Court”, probate courts mostly process the distribution of a person’s estate after they become deceased.

As a specialized type of court, not all jurisdictions maintain probate courts.  In jurisdictions where they do maintain such courts, the probate court can either be a separate branch or may be connected to a larger court entity (usually a court of equity). 

What Does a Probate Court Do?

Probate courts and probate judges handle a wide range of procedural, administrative, and legal matters relating to wills and estates.  For example, a typical probate court will perform such functions as:

  • Administering the distribution of the property/assets of a person who has become deceased
  • Determining the validity of a will document
  • Enforcing provisions contained in a valid will
  • Handling the probate process
  • Preventing misconduct by estate executors or administrators
  • Reviewing any debt or outstanding claims related to the person’s estate

In addition, the probate court may review claims and lawsuits involving will contests or will disputes.  They may also examine issues related to intestacy (i.e., when a person dies without a valid will), in which case they will determine how the person’s property is to be equally distributed. 

Lastly, probate courts can also handle various matters such as those related to inheritance rights of orphans.  As such, probate courts are often called “orphan courts”, or alternatively, “courts of ordinary”.

What if I Need to File Through the Probate Court?

You can file with a probate court if you have any matters regarding an estate that need to be addressed.  For example, if you feel that an estate is being handled improperly, you can file a petition with the probate court.  As a remedy, the court may require the executor to give an accounting of their conduct, or they can appoint a replacement executor. 

When filing with the probate court, you usually need to provide the following information or evidence:

  • What the dispute or contest involves
  • Copies of the person’s valid will/estate documents
  • Which parties may be involved
  • A list of the different beneficiaries affected
  • A list of the property involved in the dispute
  • Any outstanding claims or debts on the person’s estate
  • What you would wish the court to accomplish

When submitting your claim, it’s usually necessary to work closely with a probate lawyer for advice and legal guidance, since these matters can often be fairly complicated.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help in Dealing With the Probate Court System?

Probate courts may sometimes have their own unique set of rules and procedural guidelines.  For example, the probate court may maintain various deadlines that are very different from other courts.  Thus, it’s to your advantage to contact an experienced probate lawyer if you need assistance in dealing with a probate court.  Your lawyer can provide you with expert advice on various probate matters.  In addition, your attorney can represent you in court in the event that a formal lawsuit becomes necessary.