About the Court
The jurisdiction of the Probate Court is defined In R. C. 2101.24. The Code places many diverse duties upon the Court.
The Ashtabula County Probate Court provides a variety of services to the legal community, as well as the general public. The Court consists of one (1) Judge, one (1) Magistrate, one (1) Secretary, one (1) Chief Deputy Clerk, and three (3) Deputy Clerks. With the assistance of these people, the Court handles the following administrative functions: the probating of wills, estate administrations (full estates and releases from administration), trusts, guardianships of incompetent adults and minors, commitment hearings for the mentally ill and mentally challenged, adoptions, birth corrections, name changes, delayed birth registrations, custodial accounts, lost heir accounts, order disinterments, Adult Protective Services cases, and issues approximately 650 marriage licenses per year. In addition, the Court tries litigation issues in all the above matters.
A unique aspect of the Probate Court is that the Probate Judge is the ex-officio Clerk of Courts, thus, the Court performs all the duties as its own Clerk of Courts (indexing, filing, docketing, etc.).
History of the Probate Court
The term “Probate” comes from the Latin word Probare, meaning “to prove”. Matters in early English religious courts were proven before an Ecclesiastical Judge. Early American Probate Courts are traced back to those English 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 established in other states under the name of Surrogate, Orphan Courts, or Court 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 a separate Probate Court in each county. 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 separate division of the Court of Common Pleas.
The funds required for the daily operation of the Probate Court are provided through the General Fund of Ashtabula County as allocated by the County Commissioners. The court returns a substantial amount of money to the General Fund through the collection of court costs and fees which are established by the Ohio legislature.
The jurisdiction of the Probate Court is defined in the Ohio Revised Code. The Code places many diverse duties upon the court. The following is a brief outline and description of some of those duties.
Administration of Estates
The largest responsibility of the court involves the supervision of decedents’ estates. This Court’s annual estate case load is approximately 750 estates.
The court supervises the estate administration by appointing an estate fiduciary (executor or administrator) when necessary, who must collect the assets of the decedent, pay all the legal obligations and debts of the decedent and distribute the remaining assets to those who are entitled to inherit. Most full estates are closed within nine months.
A properly drafted and executed will is beneficial and will allow the estate to be administered more efficiently. It is recommended that an attorney be consulted for the preparation of a will.
Another major responsibility of the Probate Court is to protect those persons who cannot protect themselves such as adult mentally incompetent persons and minors. Those persons may not be able to protect their financial affairs and/or their person. To protect the interests of those persons, the Court appoints a guardian who is accountable to the Court for the management of the ward’s estate and person. The court’s annual guardianship case load is approximately 65 cases.
The Probate Court oversees numerous types of trusts including testamentary trusts which are established by a decedent’s will, inter vivos trusts which are established by an individual during his or her lifetime, wrongful death trusts which are established by the Probate Court for the protection of minors who receive funds from the wrongful death of a relative, and supplemental needs trusts to provide a higher quality of life for the disabled.
Mental Illness and Mental Retardation
The Probate Court oversees the involuntary civil commitment process of individuals who are alleged to be mentally ill or mentally retarded. The Court conducts hearings to determine whether the individual is subject to hospitalization and to determine the length and place of treatment. All individuals involved have legal representation throughout the process. Approximately 10 to 15 commitment hearings are conducted annually by this Probate Court. These proceedings and records are confidential by law.
All adoptions filed in Ashtabula County must be finalized by the Probate Court. Those wishing to adopt are required to submit to a personal home investigation to insure their suitability as adoptive parents. Approximately 50 adoptions are filed annually. The hearings and records are confidential by law.
The Probate Court has the authority to correct birth certificates and to issue delayed birth certificates for those individuals born within the State of Ohio. Birth certificates for individuals born in Ashtabula County, as well as death certificates of individuals who passed away in Ashtabula County between 1867 and 1908 can be found at Ashtabula County Probate Court. After 1908, individuals born in Conneaut or Ashtabula, birth records are located in their respective municipal health departments. Individuals born in any other area of the county, the birth records are located at the Ashtabula County Health Department. Likewise, after 1908, individuals who passed away in Conneaut or Ashtabula, the death records are located at their respective municipal health departments; and individuals passing away in any other area of the county, those death records are located at the Ashtabula County Health Department.
Change of Name
An Ashtabula County resident who desires to legally change his or her name must file an application in the Ashtabula County Probate Court. The Court hears name changes for both adults and minors. The person seeking the name change must be a resident of Ashtabula County for at least one year prior to filing the application. All matters are set for hearing and publication is required in all cases. Approximately 50 name changes are processed annually in the Probate Court.
Approximately 650 marriage licenses are issued annually by the Ashtabula County Probate Court to couples who desire to be married within the State of Ohio. Couples should bring a current photo ID, like a driver's license or State ID, a
Social Security card and $45 in cash or money orders. The office does not accept personal checks.
The photo ID must have the person's current address on it, otherwise proof of residency is required. A utility bill
with a current address is acceptable. If a person does not have a photo ID then they must bring their birth certificate, along with a utility bill, and Social Security card. A divorcee must provide a certified copy of divorce papers (including Judge's signature, stamp and seal) and widowers must provide a death certificate before a marriage license will be issued.
The soon-to-be-married couple must provide their parent's name, and the mother's maiden name. Ashtabula County residents can get a marriage license in Ashtabula County, however if the bride or groom does not live in Ohio the ceremony must be performed in Ashtabula County. Those who live outside of the United States must bring a current passport and visa along with other items to get a marriage license.
There are also special requirements for minor to get married. He must be at least 18 years old and she must be at least 16 years old. Pre-marriage counseling by a certified counselor or minister is requried and a custodial parent must sign the application. If the custodial parent has gone through a divorce, proof of custody must be provided. Minors must also bring a Social Security card, birth certificate, and photo ID with a current address.
All marriage licenses are good on the day they are issued and are legal for 60 days. The wedding ceremony must be performed, the license signed and returned by the person performing the ceremony within 60 days or the license expires.
Same gender marriages are not permitted by Ohio Law.
The Honorable Charles G. Hague is the Judge and Clerk of the Ashtabula County Probate Court. This Court of Common Pleas Judgeship is an elected position with a six year term. As the Clerk of the Probate Court, the Judge is responsible for keeping and maintaining all records and filings in the Probate Court.
Under Ohio Law, a Judge may appoint Magistrates, who are attorneys admitted to practice in this State, to handle certain cases filed with the Court. Due to its increasing case load, the Ashtabula County Probate Court uses a Magistrate to assist the Judge in the operation of the Court. The Magistrate hears cases and issues decisions which may become the Court’s Order or be modified by the Judge upon review. Use of a Magistrate has proven to be an efficient and effective means of handling the increasing volume of filings in the Ashtabula County Probate Court.
The Ohio Constitution and the Ohio Revised code authorizes the Probate Judge to appoint Deputy Clerks to assist in carrying out the business of the Court. 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 for the Probate Court.
Other Types of Actions in the Probate Court
Adult Protective Service Protective Orders
Designation of Heirship
Guardianships of Minors
Presumption of Death
Protective Services for Mentally Retarded Persons
Wrongful Death Settlements
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. Due to the complexity of the law and desire to avoid costly errors, most individuals who have filings before the Court are represented by an attorney. Court employees are prohibited by statute from practicing law and cannot give legal advice.