About This Online Publication
This online publication is designed as a
service to the public; to provide an overview of the history,
function and duties of the Probate Division of the Summit
County Court of Common Pleas. This should not be considered
as a legal reference. If you have a legal question dealing
with Probate, an attorney should be consulted.
of the Probate Court
The term "Probate" comes from the Latin word
Probatio, meaning "to prove," wherein matters in early English
religious courts were proven before an ecclesiastical judge.
Early American Probate Courts may be traced back to those
English ecclesiastical, or religious courts, which had jurisdiction
over the probate of wills and administration of estates.
The first Probate Court in the United States
was established in Massachusetts in 1784. Similar Courts were
subsequently established in other states under the name of
surrogate, orphan courts, or courts of the ordinary. The Northwest
Ordinance of 1787 provided for the first Probate Judge and
Court in the Ohio Territory. Under the first Ohio Constitution
written in 1802, the Court of Common Pleas had exclusive jurisdiction
of probate matters. The Constitution of 1851 removed probate
matters from the jurisdiction of Common Pleas Court and created
in each county a separate Probate Court. Subsequent amendments
to the Constitution in 1912, 1951, 1968, and 1973, and changes
in the codified law in 1932 and 1976 have made the Probate
Court what it is today: a special division of the Court of
The money to operate the Probate Court is
provided by the General Fund of Summit County. However, the
Court returns to the General Fund substantial monies through
collection of fees and costs. A seventeen dollar ($17.00)
charge collected with the issuance of each marriage license
allows the Court to turn over to the Fund for Battered Spouses
eighty-five thousand dollars ($85,000.00) annually.
Jurisdiction of the Court
The Ohio Revised Code places over two hundred
separate duties upon the Probate Court. Those duties range
from issuing marriage licenses to overseeing testamentary
trusts valued in millions of dollars. The following is a brief
outline and description of some of the duties of the Court:
Administration of Estates
Approximately three thousand five hundred
(3,500) intestate (without a will) and testate (with a will)
estates are filed in the Summit County Probate Court yearly.
Estate administration involves the Court overseeing transfer
of a decedent's probatable assets to his beneficiaries and
heirs. The Court accomplishes this task by appointing a
fiduciary, either executor or an administrator, who collects
the assets, pays any outstanding debts and then distributes
the remaining assets to those who are entitled to receive
them. The Court supervises the actions of the fiduciary
by requiring a bond when necessary, and the filing of various
documents including an inventory and an accounting.
The Court may appoint a guardian for an
individual who is found to be incompetent to handle his
or her own affairs. A finding of incompetency and the appointment
of the guardian is granted only after a hearing. The guardian
is strictly accountable to the Court for management of the
ward's estate. Summit Court Probate Court administers three
thousand (3,000) Guardianship cases.
Mental Illness and Mental Retardation
Civil involuntary commitments of the mentally
ill and retarded to state hospitals are the responsibility
of the Probate Court. The Court is required to hold evidentiary
hearings to determine the appropriateness of commitment
and the length and place of treatment. Since the involuntary
commitment involves the loss of liberty, the Court insures
protection of an individual's rights by providing legal
representation at each step of the commitment process. Approximately
six hundred fifty (650) commitments are made annually by
the Summit County Probate Court.
All adoptions must be approved by the Probate
Court before they become final. A person or persons wishing
to adopt are required to submit to an investigation of their
living environment by professionally trained personnel to
insure their suitability as parents. Over three hundred
fifty (350) adoptions are approved yearly by the Summit
County Probate Court.
Information on births before 1908 is available
from the Probate Court. (1908 to date, state or local Office
of Vital Statistics). For individuals born in Summit County
prior to 1908, a certified certificate of birth may be obtained
from the Probate Court.
Changes of Name
Applications for legal change of name are
filed in the Probate Court. A case number will be issued,
and a hearing date set, upon application. Notice forms are
issued for publication in a paper of general circulation.
After a hearing, the Court may change a person's name for
good cause shown. Summit County Probate Court annually grants
approximately two hundred twenty-five (225) name change
The Summit County Probate Court annually
issues approximately four thousand (4,000) marriage licenses.
To marry in the State of Ohio, without consent, a male or
female must be eighteen years of age and not closer in relationship
than second cousins. Both must apply in person to the Summit
County Probate Court. A blood test is no longer required.
Adversarial questions relating to probate
such as a will contest, determination of heirship, and presumption
of death are instituted in Probate Court by the filing of
a civil complaint. A civil action is generally the only
matter filed in Probate Court that provides for disposition
of the case by jury trail.
Testamentary and Inter Vivos Trusts
Probate Court is responsible for insuring
that the terms of testamentary trusts, those created by
a will, and inter vivos trusts, those created during a person's
lifetime, are complied with.
Appointments to Boards and Commissions
It is the responsibility of the Probate Judge
to appoint members of various independent boards and commissions.
As an example, all of the members of the Metropolitan Parks
Board and Facilities Review Board are appointed by the Probate
Elinore Marsh Stormer is currently the presiding Judge
of the Summit County Probate Court, Office of Judge of the
Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division is an elected non
partisan office with a six year term. The Judge of the Probate
Court, as a Common Pleas Judge, has full criminal and civil
power in addition to exclusive jurisdiction in probate matters.
With the exception of the Juvenile Court Judge, the Probate
Judge is the only judge who is clerk of his own Court. As
clerk, he is responsible for the keeping and maintaining
of all records and filings of the Probate Court.
Under Ohio law, a Judge may appoint attorneys
as magistrates to handle certain cases filed with the Court.
Due to heavy caseloads, Probate Courts use the magistrate
system. A magistrate acts and makes decisions in the same
manner as a Judge. In contested matters, a magistrate's
ruling is in the form of a decision or Order. If the magistrate's
decision is not objected to, it becomes the decision and
Order of the Court. If an objection is filed, the Judge,
after hearing, may accept, modify, or reject the decision
and rehear the matter. The magistrate system has proven
to be an efficient and effective means of handling an ever-increasing
volume of cases.
Ohio Revised Code authorizes the Probate
Judge to appoint deputy clerks to assist in carrying out
the business of the Court. All of the Court's employees
are sworn as deputy clerks. The specific task of each clerk
varies from that of issuing marriage licenses to handling
and reviewing inventories and accounts. Each clerk is authorized
to act in an official capacity to certify records and accept
filings of the Probate Court.
Legal Practice in the Probate Court
Legal practice in the Probate Court is restricted
by law to attorneys who are licensed by the Supreme Court
of Ohio. If an individual wishes to handle his or her own
case, he or she may do so; however, they may not represent
others. Due to the complexity of the law and the desire to
avoid costly errors, most individuals who have filings before
the Court are represented by an attorney. Deputy clerks are
prevented by law from practicing law and therefore are limited
in the advice they are permitted to give.