The Maryland Orphans’ Court is the state’s probate court and also has jurisdiction over guardianships of minors.
While it has a long history of serving Maryland’s citizens since before the beginning of our nation, the Orphans’ Court remains a mystery to most people.
It may be the name that confuses people. “Orphans’ Court” is simply the historical name for a court that handles wills and estates. Its name derives from the old City of London’s Court for Widows and Orphans. Lord Baltimore brought this court system to his colony, and in 1777 the Maryland General Assembly formally established an Orphans’ Court and Register of Wills in each county and the City of Baltimore. That structure still operates today.
Three Orphans’ Court judges sit in the City of Baltimore and each of Maryland’s counties, except Harford and Montgomery counties. (In those two counties, Circuit Court judges sit as Orphans’ Court judges.) Orphans' Court judges run for general election every four years. Maryland’s Constitution requires Orphans’ Court judges to be Maryland citizens and residents of their jurisdiction for at least 12 months before their election, but the state Constitution does not require Orphans’ Court judges to be lawyers. Currently approximately one-third of the Orphans’ Court judges are attorneys and two-thirds are lay judges.