To help Georgia counties administer state programs and conduct state courts, the first state constitution in 1778 originally created four elected county officers: the ordinary, the sheriff, the tax commissioner and the clerk of the superior court.
The courts of ordinary became the probate court in 1983 when the Constitution was amended, and the county ordinary became the probate judge.
All counties a probate court with one probate judge, who is elected for a term of four years in countywide partisan elections. Qualifications for this office vary. In all counties a candidate for probate judge must be at least 25 years old, a high school graduate and a county resident for at least two years preceding the election.
The Probate Judge has original jurisdiction in the probation of wills, administration of estates, appointment of guardians and involuntary hospitalization of mentally incapacitated adults. They administer oaths of office and issue marriage licenses. They also supervise the printing of election ballots and the counting of votes, and in some counties they have jurisdiction over traffic and compulsory school attendance laws.
Probate judges may conduct habeas corpus hearings or preside over criminal preliminary hearings. Probate judges may handle certain misdemeanor cases, traffic cases, and violations of state game and fish laws in counties where there is no state court.