After three years of Latin at Classical High in Providence I know that the word “Probate” derives from probatus or probare – “to prove a thing”. Thus if someone dies with a Will it must be “proven” to be the last word of the decedent regarding distribution of an estate. Even if there is no Will, the status of someone to inherit someone’s property must also be “proven”.
Over the centuries, proving a Will or a person’s status as an heir has been the task of Probate Courts. While Rhode Island may be the smallest State, we have 39 separate Probate Courts representing each of the 39 cities and towns, each responsible for administering the distribution of estates after death.
While Probate Courts devote most of their time to death estates, they also have jurisdiction over guardianship and custodianship of living persons, young and old. Such proceeding may become necessary when a person is unable to handle their own life affairs as a result of physical or cognitive disabilities, thus requiring the assistance of a court-appointed fiduciary. I have familiarity with the Probate system not only after many years of practice but also in my capacity as a former Probate Court Judge.