ALBANY, Ga. -- Gov. Nathan Deal has signed into law a House bill that Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson says could have a major impact on people with probate cases.
HB 534 was offered up by state Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, during this year's session of the General Assembly.
The bill, which applies only to Dougherty County, amends the Georgia Code that applies to Probate Courts, specifically to add the 2010 census numbers. Georgia law currently limits Probate Court powers depending on the population of a county.
Since Dougherty County's population fell below those numbers on the 2010 census, the bill changed the population requirements to allow for Dougherty to keep the majority of Dougherty's Probate Court services.
"A lot of people probably won't realize the change, but for this office, it's huge," Stephenson said. "Because the law was so unclear, we had people filing appeals in (both) Superior Court and the Georgia Supreme Court, just to make sure that their case was properly heard, which comes at a great personal expense to them and to the court system."
Stephenson said that, additionally, the Probate Court's more advanced services, like establishing trusts, is now safeguarded because of the change.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee this past spring, Fullerton asked for the committee's support to get the bill passed and to not allow Dougherty County to "fall off" the list of special probate courts -- also known as Article 6 courts.
"Needless to say, our probate judge, Nancy Stephenson, has done a superlative job in her position now for over 19 years and supports continuation of her court as an Article 6 Probate Court. The Dougherty County Commission has unanimously voted to support my bill and the current status of our Probate Court. The Honorable Willie Lockette, chief judge of our Dougherty Circuit Superior Court, has written a letter in total support of such continuation, indicating his belief that probate issues have been handled well in our Article 6 Court and to change its status would both significantly burden both litigants and the local Superior Court Circuit with no benefit for anyone," her testimony stated.