Want to be a Probate Judge?

Never in a million years would I have thought this to be a topic of interest; however, I was recently notified by my blog statistics that almost 20 people per month land on this site because they are trying to find out what is required to be a Probate Judge in South Carolina. So, for those random searchers out there . . . this one is for you.

The most common misconception about South Carolina Probate Judges is that they are all lawyers. While many of them are, an equal number of our Probate Judges are not. In South Carolina, Code Section 14-23-1040 detail the requirements to be a Probate Judge as follows:

  1. You must be a U.S. citizen and a resident of South Carolina.
  2. You must be twenty-one (21) years of age.
  3. You must be a “qualified elector” in the County where you intend to be a Judge (in other words, you must be a resident of that county).
  4. You must have a four (4) years bachelor’s degree OR four (4) years experience as an employee in the Probate Court.

The U.S. Department of Justice has not approved the requirement and therefore it’s technically unenforceable. So, reading these qualifications (espececially removing the education component), it would seem that a vast majority of people could become Probate Judges; however, the biggest issue is that Probate Judges in South Carolina are popularly elected. And, despite the fact that our legislators have not seen fit to increase the qualifications required, the general public usually applies some degree of common sense when going to vote (note I said usually). This means that candidates will need public support, campaign funding and plenty of yards signs. The filing fee to run varies by county but in many it’s as much as $3500 just to have your name on the ballet. And, for the most part, the public will vote for someone who is either an attorney or who has experience in the Probate Court, Clerk of Court, or related offices. In fact, some of our best Judges in the state are non-lawyers who worked their way up in the courts.

Probate Judges are county-wide elected positions which means there is one per county (46 in the state as a whole). Currently, Probate Judges do have to “declare” a party (meaning they run as Republicans, Democrats or Independents). Probate Judges are the only elected judiciary position in the state of South Carolina and are bound by very strict ethical rules when running for this position. They run every four (4) years and are allowed unlimited terms.

Besides the minimal qualifications and ability to get elected, there are some traits that are also required to actually perform the function of Probate Judge (and get re-elected). You must be very public service oriented (low pay, lots of constituent service), have incredible patience, and be capable of reading, researching and understanding the law in the areas of probate, guardianships, conservatorships and commitments. This isn’t your “typical” judicial position and a quick look at the biographies and backgrounds of our state’s Judges will show you that while almost anyone technically qualifies to run for Probate Judge, it takes a certain temperament to truly get the job done.

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7 Responses to Want to be a Probate Judge?

  1. samantha raley says:

    Check out scvotes.org to get the latest on qualifications for elected positions. The S.C. Code of Laws Section 14-23-1040 includes an education/experience requirement for Probate Judge. (Act 678 of 1990). However, the U.S. Department of Justice objected to the requirement, and the act was NEVER precleared and is therefore unenforceable. So qualifications 1 through 3 is all that is required to file as a candidate for Probate Judge, plus the required fee. Then you must be popularly elected.

  2. Samantha,

    You are absolutely correct and I have updated the post to clarify. Thanks for your comment!


  3. eve tate says:

    my name is eve and I would like to comment on the position as a probate judge.
    The position is a job that requires patience and the ability to have critical thinking skills as well as strategic planning and development. probate is a sensitive issue for most people and logical thinking is neccessary to be fair among others.
    I am pashionate about the position and desire to seek mentorship for the position in my area.
    eve tate 803-754-2594
    looking for a mentor?

  4. Resa says:

    My brother has been in law enforcement for 20 plus years. Would he qualify?

  5. Remember, meeting the technical qualifications does not guarantee election. This is a popularly elected position so qualifications only get you on the ballot.

  6. rylen says:

    Do you know why Probate Judges, alone of all Judges in SC, are directly elected?

  7. Efforts have been made to change our laws in this regards but they were not met with much enthusiasm. Being the only popularly elected members of the judiciary is odd, but I’m not sure that our current system for appointing other judicial positions is better. In some states, ALL judges are elected which often leads to a corrupt judiciary. In other states, ALL judges are appointed, which often leads to the appointment of only those who are close to, in business with or married to a member of the delegation. I’m not sure there is a perfect method but it’s a discussion that generates lots of opinions amongst lawyers and lawmakers!

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