Gagas retires after 46 years with Portage County
Theresa M. “Terrie” Gagas has retired after working for Portage County for 46 years, most as register in probate or deputy register in probate.
Gagas retired Friday, July 8, but volunteered after that until her successor was sworn in Monday, Aug. 1.
“She is literally an institution, with 31 years as register in probate,” said Judge Tom Flugaur of Circuit Court Branch 3, who was Gagas’ supervisor during the latest judicial rotation. “She was so valuable as a public servant, always willing to help not only attorneys, but also the public. She was just so willing to give of herself.
“She will be greatly missed,” he said. “She was a wonderful public servant, the epitome of one. She has always been willing to help.”
As register in probate, Gagas assisted in all estate proceedings in Portage County with or without a will, and also trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, protective placement and commitments related to mental health, and alcohol and drug abuse.
Her title becomes registrar when she handles the administration of all informal probate proceedings, and she can advise about the preparation of documents, but may not provide legal advice to a personal representative.
As register, Gagas said she will help an attorney through the process of probate for following the directives a decedent set up in a will.
Since she was hired June 1, 1970, she said she has seen a drop in formal proceedings for probate. She oversees informal probate, if the parties agree to waive court action, and there are no contested issues, and those actions constitute about 85 percent of the cases.
If someone files objections to a claim, she said, the case is then transferred to formal probate.
Gagas said there’s a lot less probate action than before because most estates are set with wills now, parties have done more estate planning to avoid the probate process and the minimum for an estate to be probated without a will is $50,000.
While formal probate cases may be declining, she said guardianship and protective placement cases have increased in recent years because a lot of people are living longer and going into nursing homes, which require legal action without a living will for health care and finances through a durable power of attorney.
“That’s why we advise setting up durable power of attorney for finance and heath care,” she said. “The cost an attorney will charge is well worth the expense instead of going through court. You don’t realize until something happens how important that is.”
Gagas said she worked as a deputy with Dorothy Grover, who was the register in probate for more than 20 years, before succeeding her.
“It really doesn’t seem like it was that long,” Gagas said. “I loved the work. It didn’t seem like work. I felt happy to work with others. I enjoyed being with attorneys. They’re a good group. They work for the people.”
She said after 46 years in the office, she can guide a person toward the necessary steps and will assist an attorney. “People can prepare the paperwork themselves. They can do it.”
When Gagas started, she worked first in the office complex with Judge Robert C. Jenkins, who was followed in that complex by Judge John V. Finn and now Judge Robert Shannon, who replaced Finn in 2015. Once the duties of the Circuit Court judges were placed in rotation, she remained in that complex but also worked under the supervision of Judges Fred Fleishauer, Thomas B. Eagon and Flugaur.
“They are really, really good judges to work for,” she said.
With retirement ahead, Gagas said she doesn’t have any immediate big plans. “I’m not sure what to do in my free time. I took a vacation for a week at a time in the past. I have three granddaughters, and I’m trying to spend time with them. I’m sure time will fly, and I’ll have things to do. I do like to read books.”