Help Desk assists Probate Court users
By Thomas Cardone
The Summit County Probate Court initiated a “Help Desk” program to address various concerns raised by citizens during Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer’s campaign for this office. In conjunction with the new program, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct specifically encourages judges to assist people who choose to represent themselves, including making resources available to assist a person in the preparation of a case. Since its inception, nearly 400 people have been helped, either in person or by telephone, through the guidance of two attorneys who work the Probate Court Help Desk.
The Help Desk offers a service to the citizens of Summit County, yet in no way does it replace a personal attorney’s comprehensive legal advice. In fact, if a person uses the Help Desk, they will be asked to sign a disclaimer indicating an understanding that Help Desk assistance is not a substitute for legal counsel. Complex or contested issues, creation of a will or setting up trusts are areas beyond the scope of the Help Desk and need to be discussed with a personal attorney. The Help Desk can provide referrals to the Akron Bar Association for counsel and have done so numerous times.
The essence of the program is to help family members who are dealing with the loss of a loved one or for whom a guardianship is needed. Terms like “intestate, full administration, estate release, inventory and accounting” are terms used in the Court that have special meanings, but are generally confusing to most people.
While neither the lawyers at the desk nor the deputy clerks can give legal advice, much of what happens in the Probate Court is driven by forms. In many instances, the Help Desk is there to provide assistance in selecting the correct form or forms and in answering questions about the forms. The lawyers, Andrea Norris and Beverly Rose, have extensive probate experience. You will have the chance to sit down with one of them and discuss your concerns. Based upon your needs, they can help you select the correct procedures for your particular situation.
So what kinds of problems can it help solve? In the area of estate administration, they help people who need to transfer cars or small amounts of money. Often-asked inquiries include: how to close a safety deposit box, how to file a will, when to file a release from administration and how to transfer a deed. Frequently, there are newly discovered assets like a savings account or unclaimed funds, and the Help Desk assists in choosing the proper forms to transfer the money to heirs.
Guardianships present different issues. The Help Desk has assisted guardians in understanding the types of forms that the law requires. What is required if you think an aging parent or ailing child needs a guardian? They can also clarify the various documents required by a guardian to justify the expenditures and care of their ward.
The Help Desk explains the documents needed and can review the documents for completeness. They do not file documents; that is the responsibility of the user. Surveys completed by those who visited the help desk have uniformly supported the program. One woman wrote that the Help Desk guided her with patience and consideration. “They provided a wealth of knowledge/information and were emotionally supportive as well. They stressed the importance of a will and/or power of attorney, as well as knowledge of basic family matters.”
Judge Stormer commented, “We are committed to creating an efficient and friendly court. Frankly, the effect of the Help Desk has been more positive and far reaching than anticipated.”
Help Desk hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. Individuals in need and without legal representation may schedule an appointment with the Summit County Probate Court Help Desk by calling 330-643-2323. Appointments are recommended, but walk-ins are also welcome.
Thomas Cardone is deputy court administrator for Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer.
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