The state's probate court is about to meet modern times.

The Connecticut Probate Court Assembly has written a plan consolidating the present 117 probate court districts into 50.

For New Milford residents, there would be no difference, but the plan could mean significant changes for neighboring towns.

Probate judges met July 8 in Hartford to arrive at the first in a series of steps that will reform the state's 300-year-old probate court system. They were responding to a bill signed into law June 12 by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. The law is designed to make the courts more self-sustaining financially and more efficient.

The plan arrived at by the assembly maintains New Milford as a district center, merged withBridgewater, Sherman, New Fairfield and Brookfield.

The towns of Roxbury and Washington will merge with Southbury, Woodbury, Bethlehem and Watertown. To the north, Kent and Warren would maintain their position with the Litchfield probate court and that court district would merge with Torrington, Goshen, Harwinton and Thomaston.

Selectmen in Kent have voiced dissatisfaction with the plan. They would rather see their town merged with New Milford. First Selectman Ruth Epstein would also like to see the Litchfield court district stay as it is.

"I'm a strong advocate for keeping the Litchfield court as it is," Ms. Epstein said. "I feel it's important that small towns stay together. We've been served very well by Diane Blick (probate court judge); she's accessible and the key to probate court is accessibility."

Changes will not immediately come.

"Things stand as they are with the court districts until the 2011 elections," said Vincent Russo, legislative program manager in the state probate court administrator's office.

"By mid-October of this year, the final bill should be in place with districts approved by the legislature and Governor," Mr. Russo said.

The Probate Court Assembly's plan will affect residents throughout the state. It will go from assembly to Probate Redistricting Committee, then to the state legislature and finally to the governor.

"It's a long process," said Mr. Russo, "but it should be a long process. These things shouldn't be rushed in to."

"We're talking about people in sensitive situations who are looking for help and guidance," he explained. "Changes in that process should be arrived at only after hard and long deliberation."

Probate courts have broad jurisdiction over a number of family matters. In addition to helping survivors settle estates, they decide parental rights and guardianship for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

Contact Susan Tuz

at stuz@newstimes.com

or (860) 355-7322.