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Probate Court


Contact Information, Office Hours
Functions, Office Responsibilities
FAQ's, Common Terms, History, Interesting Facts
Current Elected Official Biographical Information
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Probates estates
Holds Commitment Hearings
Issues Marriage Licenses
Settlements for Minors and Wrongful Deaths

Probate Court assists the citizens of Charleston County in probating estates, resolving disputes in estates and trusts, handling involuntary commitments for alcohol/drug abuse and/or mental illness, obtaining marriage licenses, appointing and supervising guardians and conservators, and approving minor and wrongful death settlements. Probate Court includes the Estate, Commitment and Marriage Divisions. The Probate Judge is elected countywide and serves a four-year term.

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This Office Does

dot Provide support for family members/attorneys to handle deceased person's affairs
dot Provide assistance in the involuntary commitment of individuals for alcohol/drug problems and/or mental illness
dot Issue marriage licenses and certified copies of marriage licenses
dot Appoint and supervise conservators and guardians
dot Approve minor settlements and wrongful death settlements

This Office Does Not

dot Write wills. Call the S.C. Lawyers Referral Service at (800) 868-2284 or the Legal Service Agency at (843) 720-7044 for attorney information.
dot Hear criminal cases

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q:   What estate planning documents should I have?
A:   Everyone should consider a Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney for business affairs, Health Care Power of Attorney and Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death (or Living Will).
Q:   In South Carolina, how is the property of a deceased citizen distributed if there is no will?
A:   If one dies without a will, the law of interstate succession controls probate property. Generally, the property passes in accordance with the deceased's family tree (unless there are nonprobate transfers).
Q:   What is required for one to apply for a marriage license in this state?
A:   A person must be at least 18 years of age or have parental consent. The license is normally issued following the mandatory 24-hour waiting period once the application is filed and fee of $70 cash is paid.
Q:   What are the requirements for having a legal will?
A:   The document must be in writing, signed by a testator who is at least 18 years old and have two witnesses. You should consult an attorney.

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Common Terms

Accountings-- Reports that contain the annual and final fiscal reports showing receipts and disbursements with date and purpose.

Estate Papers-- The original probate papers such as wills, inventories, letters, accountings and related papers.

Probate --The legal process of wrapping up a person's affairs, paying their bills and distributing their assets.

Testator-- A person who has made a legally valid will before death.

Will Books-- Recorded transcripts of the original probate wills that give information about proving the will and qualifying the personal representative.

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The forerunner to the Probate Court was the Court of the Ordinary. The founding of the Colony in 1670 led to the creation of the original Probate Court. In the court's early days, the Royal Governors or their secretaries were the only Ordinaries in the province. Beginning in 1778, the S.C. Commons House of Assembly was to appoint Ordinaries for each of the province's seven court districts; however, due to the presence of British forces in South Carolina, no District Ordinaries were appointed until 1782. When the last Royal Governor fled after the adoption of the Federal Constitution on June 21, 1788, the General Assembly appointed an Ordinary to fulfill the duties of the office in Charleston District.

In 1787, duties of the District Ordinaries were transferred to county courts; but because Charleston District had no county court, a 1789 law directed the Ordinary to continue. County courts were abolished in 1799. Within the year, the S.C. General Assembly created 24 circuit court districts whose Ordinaries they appointed until 1815 when they became elected.

The S.C. Constitution of 1868 replaced the Court of the Ordinary with the Probate Court. Changes to the S.C. Constitution in 1895 required the Probate Court to be dependent on the General Assembly for funding and legal procedures. This was so in all counties except Charleston where it remained a constitutional court until 1962.

Unlike other judges in South Carolina, the probate judge is selected by popular election to a four-year term.

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Interesting Facts

dot The Estate Division opens approximately 1,700 estates a year and tries approximately 400 litigated cases.
dot On average, the Commitment Division handles 2,000 commitments per year.
dot The Marriage Bureau issues an average of 5,000 marriage licenses per year.
dot Copies of wills from 1671-1871, as well as estate inventories and miscellaneous records from 1687-1785, are housed in the South Carolina Room of the Charleston County Main Library. The original documents are stored at the S.C. Department of Archives and History.
dot Probate Court has records of marriage licenses from 1879-present. Prior to 1879, churches kept these records.
dot Charleston County provides funds for one full-time and one part-time Associate Probate Judge who are appointed by the Probate Judge.
dot Probate Court matters are generally conducted without a jury, but, under state law, parties have the right to request a jury trial.

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Contact Information

Commitment Division, Guardianship and Commitment
Judicial Center
100 Broad Street, Suite 469
Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 958-5180
(843) 958-5191 (Fax)

Estate Division
Historic Courthouse
84 Broad Street, Third Floor
Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 958-5030
(843) 958-5044 (Fax)

Marriage License Division
Judicial Center
100 Broad Street, Suite 469
Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 958-5183
(843) 958-5191 (Fax)

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Office Hours

Commitment, Guardianship and Estate Divisions
8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Marriage License Division
8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

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