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.

History 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 Common Pleas.

Court Budget

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.
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Guardianships

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.
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Mental Illness and Developmentally Disabled

Civil involuntary commitments of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled 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.

Adoptions

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.
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Birth Certificates

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.
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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 applications.
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Marriage Licenses

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.
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Civil Actions

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 Judge.

Court Officers:

 

Judge

The Honorable Elinore Marsh Stormer is currently the presiding Judge of the Summit County Probate Court, Court of Common Pleas. The 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.

Magistrates

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.

Deputy Clerks

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.

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