Alabama has 68 Probate Courts and judges who sit on their benches. Probate Courts are very specialized with limited jurisdiction. The purpose of a probate court is to dispose of the property and debts of someone who had passed away. This process involves making sure the deceased person’s creditors are paid in full and then any remaining assets are correctly distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries.
If the person who had died does not have a will, this process becomes more complicated, and sometimes family feuds result from the fight over property and belongings. Probate Courts smooth over these disputes by deciding who gets what based on “next-of-kin” law. Depending on where someone is in the lineage of the family determines if they will receive anything and how much. When someone dies leaving a “last will and testament” the courts have an easier job of disseminating the person’s assets according to their last wishes.
Alabama’s Probate Courts handle cases pertaining to wills, estates, real property, adoption, guardianship of minors, adoption, name changes, conservatorships, partitions of land and have exclusive jurisdiction over mental health cases. Some types of cases especially complex estate cases can take months and even years to resolve and they can be very costly before they are over. There are also estate taxes which must be paid before the beneficiaries get their share.
Any appeals that result from any of the Alabama Probate Courts must first be heard in the Circuit Court. After that, they will proceed to the Civil Court of Appeals. This situation may occur when someone decides to contest a will when they do not agree with its contents or feel that it was created under duress or illegally. Many Alabama counties have a Probate Court and their own website where users can go to learn all about them.