Commissioners asked to expand probate registry staff

9 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The Aroostook County Commissioners were asked last week to increase the staff to the Houlton Registry of Probate during a regular meeting held in the Shiretown.

Steve Nelson, attorney for the law firm Severson, Hand and Nelson of Houlton, spoke to the board during the public comments portion of the meeting and highlighted the need for additional staff in the Registry of Probate.

 The Aroostook Probate Court processed 389 new cases last year, with just two full-time staff, Darleen Guy (register) and Darci Merry (deputy). In comparison, Waldo County processed 312 new cases with three full-time staff members, while Lincoln County processed 350 cases with two and a half staff members.

 All of the counties, except for Aroostook, Piscataquis and Androscoggin have at least two full-time and one part-time employee.

 According to the County’s website, probate originally meant “relating to proof; afterwards, relating to the proof of wills.” The proof before an ordinary, surrogate, register or other duly authorized person that a document produced before him for official recognition and registration, and alleged to be the last will and testament of a certain deceased person is such reality. (Black’s Law Dictionary)

 The Probate Court has had several relating definitions over the years: the Widows and Orphans Court; the Poor Court; and the Court of Protection. All of these terms fit the description of the Probate Court.

 The Probate Court carries out the following procedures: adoptions; guardianship of minors; guardianships; conservatorships; change of names; estates; trusts; and enforcement.

 “The overarching sentiment is that it appears that the delay caused in appointments is due to understaffing as the counties (Penobscot and Washington) that have more staff are able to process the cases more quickly,” Nelson said. “A part-time employee or one more full-time employee may not seem like much, but it is a huge impact on ability to process workload.”

 Nelson added Guy and Merry “work very hard with what they have and do their best to get cases processed.” However, when Guy must be out of the office for hearing days or to do things with contested probate litigation, there is only one person in the office to process cases.

 The commissioners took no action on the request, but said they would take the matter into consideration when it comes time to build the next county budget.