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 English courts of chancery and ecclesiastical, or religious, courts, which had jurisdiction over the probate of wills, administration of estates and guardianships.


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 courts and created in each county a separate probate court. Subsequent amendments to the constitution in 1912, 1951, 1968, 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. Each of Ohio's 88 counties has a probate division of its court of common pleas.

Probate Judges



Charles I. Scott 1852-1855
H. Thacker 1855-1858
Thos. Dunlap 1858-1861
Frederick A. Jones 1861-1873
David R. Austin 1873-1879
Isaac R. Sherwood 1879-1885
Joseph W. Cummins 1885-1891
Irwin I. Millard 1891-1903
Richard Waite 1903-1906
H.A. Merrill 1906-1909
O'Brien O'Donnell 1909-1933
Charles E. Chittenden 1933-1949
Edgar W. Norris 1949-1962
Eugene Howard 1962
Willis E. Ludeman 1962-1985
Robert Kopf 1985-1991
Jack R. Puffenberger 1991-Present