Legal Dictionary

probate court

Legal Definition of probate court

Related terms

See also

Definition of probate court


probate court (plural probate courts)

  1. A court (tribunal) whose function is to administer estates (property of a decedent) and prove wills

Further reading

A probate court (also called a surrogate court) is a specialized court that deals with matters of probate and the administration of estates.

Probate courts administer proper distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died), adjudicates the validity of wills, enforces the provisions of a valid will (by issuing the grant of probate), prevents malfeasance by executors and administrators of estates, and provides for the equitable distribution of the assets of persons who die intestate (without a valid will), such as by granting a grant of administration giving judicial approval to the personal representative to administer matters of the estate).

In contested matters, a probate court examines the authenticity of a will and decides who is to receive the deceased person's property. In a case of an intestacy, the court determines who is to receive the deceased's property under the law of its jurisdiction. The probate court will then oversee the process of distributing the deceased's assets to the proper beneficiaries. In some jurisdictions, such courts are also referred to as orphans courts, or courts of ordinary. Not all jurisdictions have probate courts, in many places, probate functions are performed by a chancery court or another court of equity.

The surrogate court can be petitioned by interested parties in an estate, such as when a beneficiary feels that an estate is being mishandled. The court has the authority to compel the executor to give an account of his actions.

The Orphan's Court

The orphan's court was an organization established in the Chesapeake Bay colonies during colonization. The major goal of the organization was to protect orphaned children and their right to their deceased family's estate from against claims and abuses by stepparents and others.

Modern-day orphan's courts are surrogate courts, hearing matters involving wills of decedents' estates which are contested and supervising estates which are probated judicially.

List of probate courts

  • England and Wales
    • Prerogative court - former
    • Court of Probate - former
    • High Court of Justice Family Division - current
  • United States (state courts)
    • California Superior Court
    • Connecticut - Connecticut Probate Courts (a system of 54 probate court districts)
    • District of Columbia - Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Probate Division
    • Georgia - Court of Ordinary (judge known as ordinary) (former)
    • Missouri - conducted by Circuit Courts, some of which have separate probate divisions
    • New Hampshire - New Hampshire Probate Court
    • New Jersey - New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division, Probate Part
    • New York - New York Surrogate's Court (judges known as surrogates)
    • Ohio - conducted by Courts of Common Pleas, Family and Probate Divisions
    • Vermont - Probate Courts (one in each of Vermont's 14 counties)


    1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     lex fori
3.     status quo
4.     ownership
5.     lex loci delicti commissi
6.     lex situs
7.     sodomy
8.     lex causae
9.     unjustified
10.     AORO