Agency History #959


The Probate Court was established with the creation of Utah as a territory in 1851. Federal law gave territorial probate courts the power to deal with matters of estates of deceased persons and the guardianship of the estates of minors and the incompetent. In 1852, the Territorial Legislature also gave the Probate Court jurisdiction over civil, criminal, and chancery matters. (Laws of Utah, 1852, Chapter 42, sections 23-33). In 1896, with statehood, the Probate Court was abolished.


Beginning in 1852, the Probate Court handled estate, guardianship, civil, criminal, and chancery matters. The Probate Court could also act as an appellant court to the Justice of the Peace Courts in the County. In 1874, the federal Poland Act revoked the jurisdiction of the Probate Court over all but divorce and probate cases. In 1887, the federal Edmunds-Tucker act revoked Probate Court jurisdiction in divorce cases. Estate cases handled by the Court included probate and guardianship matters. These included adoptions after the legislature first made provisions for adoption as a legal process in 1884. Civil cases included primarily divorce, debt, replevin, damages, delinquent tax collections, contract and property disputes, evictions, and other case types. Criminal cases included murder, larceny, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, and contempt of court charges, as well as others. The Court also recorded incorporations and disincorporations. Land title claims and hearings were handled by the Probate Court under a process established by the Legislature in 1869.


The Probate Court was administered by the Probate Judge who was elected by the Territorial Legislature and commissioned by the Governor until 1874 when the judge was publicly elected to a two year term.. In the case of a vacancy, the governor could appoint a judge until the legislature met and elected someone. In 1888, the federal Edmunds-Tucker Act made the office subject to appointment by the President of the United States.


The Probate Court consisted of the Probate Judge and the Clerk of the Probate Court. Prior to 1880, the clerk was appointed by the Probate Judge, but in 1880 the County Clerk was made an elected position with a two-year term. The Probate Court could act as an appellant court to the Justice of the Peace Courts within the county, and all Probate Court proceedings could be appealed to the District Court.

Elias Smith, 1851-1884
Uriah J. Wenner, 1882-1885, [appointed by Governor Murray, no indication ever served]
Elias Asahel Smith, 1884-1889
George W. Bartch, 1889-1893
Jacob B. Blair, 1894-1895

COMPILED BY: Arlene Schmuland, June 2000


Allen, James B. "The Unusual Jurisdiction of County Probate Courts in the Territory of Utah." Utah Historical Quarterly 36 (Spring 1968): 132-142.

Legislature. Laws of Utah, Chapter 42, 1852, (Series 83155).

Legislature. Laws of Utah, Chapter 7, 1869, (Series 83155).

Powell, Jay E. "Fairness in the Salt Lake County Probate Court." Utah Historical Quarterly 38 (Summer 1970): 256-262.

Page Last Updated July 2, 2003.