Probate Court - Estate Division

Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option

You can now view and purchase copies of most Estate files at

Questions to Open an Estate

How do I start the probate process?

If you wish to begin probate without the assistance of an attorney, you must complete the Opening Probate Worksheet and return it to the Court with all the required documents requested in the worksheet. Once the worksheet is reviewed and approved by your estate clerk, you will be assigned a date and time to attend an Opening Probate Seminar. At the Seminar, you will receive general information about the probate process and assistance completing the legal documents necessary to start the probate.

If you do not want to attend the Opening Probate Seminar, you will need to retain the assistance of an attorney.

Was the decedent domiciled in Dorchester County at the time of their death?

If no, please contact the Probate Court of the appropriate County or State. If yes, please continue.

Did the decedent die within the last ten (10) years?

If the answer is no, please see the Petition to Determine Heirs Information, below. If the answer is yes, continue.

Did the decedent only own personal property of less than $25,000.00?

(This would mean that the decedent did not own any interest in real property.) If the Answer is yes, please go to the Small Estates Information. If no, please continue.

Did the decedent have a will?

If no, please go to Intestate Information. If yes, please go to Testate Information

Petition to Determine Heirs

If more than ten (10) years have passed since the decedents' death, the Court is required by state law to hold a hearing to determine who the heirs of the decedent were at the time of their death.

To allow the Court to hold this hearing, an interested party (typically the spouse or child of the decedent) must formally Petition the Court setting forth the heirs or family members, the status of the family members and documents supporting the status and relationships.

Supporting Documents include:

  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Orders from divorce proceedings
  • Adoption records
  • Termination of Parental Rights

This Petition must then be personally served, along with a Formal Summons, on all of the heirs. Proof of this personal service is required to be filed with the Court. The heirs are then allowed thirty (30) days to Answer this Petition. A publication is also required by state law to allow any other potential heirs to come forward and attend this hearing.

At the hearing, the testimony to establish the heirs will be taken. A disinterested party is required to testify to support the family members.

Currently, there is a non-refundable $150.00 filing fee required for this hearing. As you can see, this process is very complicated. The services of a Probate lawyer are recommended. 

Locate Missing Heirs or Devisees

Both the US Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service can offer assistance in locating missing heirs.

Social Security Administration

The SSA will forward a letter to the missing person, providing that the purpose of the search is either humanitarian (locating an estranged family member or lost friend), or monetary (tracing a missing heir). the person's date of birth and parents' names are required. The agency won't reveal the person's whereabouts or verify that the letter was received: It simply acts as the intermediary. There is no charge for humanitarian requests; all other searches cost $3.00. The search request should be made to:

Social Security Administration
Office of Central Records Operations
300 N. Greene Street, Room 1312
Tower Metro West
Baltimore, MD 21201

Internal Revenue Service

The IRS will forward letters that serve a "humane purpose," (e.g., from a family member who is trying to reunite with a relative, or from a company or organization who controls assets that may be due to a taxpayer). The social security number of the missing person must be furnished with the request.

Requests should be directed to the attention of the disclosure officer at the nearest district office of the requester. There is no charge for the service provided. There are a number of other rules and procedures contained in Rev. Proc. 94- 22 and the personal representative should review these rules prior to making a request for assistance.


For more information please contact