Kathleen Ayers, the longtime register of probate for Kennebec County, is set to retire in June. In the elective role, Ayers, pictured last Thursday at the probate courtroom at the Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta, has helped people of Kennebec County in many ways, including setting up guardianships for children and incapacitated adults, handling the estates of deceased and missing people, legal name changes and adoptions. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — After 30 years, Kathleen Ayers is ready to retire.

Since 1993, Ayers has been helping people in Kennebec County navigate all the issues that would bring them before the county’s Probate Court, including setting up guardianships for children and incapacitated adults, handling the estates of deceased and missing people, legal name changes and adoptions.

“Kathy Ayers is a treasure to the whole county, and the people who come into the Probate Court and certainly to the judge of probate,” said Probate Judge Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, who has served in that position since 2017.

“She was a mentor, she was always optimistic and always learning,” Mitchell said. “Her mind is open, and that’s why I believe she’s been able to successfully guide our Probate Court through all the reforms and make sure we’re up to date and that we’re serving the people the best way possible.”

Ayers, 62, reflected on her time as an administrator for the Kennebec County Probate Court ahead of her retirement in June.

“I think when you work here,” she said, “you figure out life is short and that every minute something could happen.”


In the three decades Ayers has served in the elective office, the work of the court has reflected the problems of the time.

In the 1990s, the court dealt with bankruptcies in settling estates. Following the Great Recession of 2008, estates became entangled with real estate foreclosures and debt.

Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges, affecting how Probate Court employees worked at the office when other courts were closed, and how they could deal with adult guardianships and the need to move people into nursing homes.

Those efforts were helped by the implementation of the uniform probate code in the months before the pandemic began. Among its provisions was the ability to take part in hearings remotely. Other provisions require annual reports on guardianships and background checks on conservators.

As these changes were being proposed and debated by the Maine Legislature, Ayers, in her role as chairperson of the Maine Registers of Probate Association’s legislative committee for more than 25 years, tracked the changes and provided information about the duties and roles of the Probate Court.

“Sometimes, people don’t understand what we do,” Ayers said. “They don’t understand that parental rights cases that look like a District Court issue involve us, too.”


Most recently, the court has been dealing with the increase in the number of deaths by suicide and what to do with the personal property left behind.

“The remains cases are the worst,” Ayers said.

Family members have fought over where people are buried and where ashes are stored. There have been exhumations and cremains stolen from cemeteries. In one case, Ayers said, the dispute of custody of a child’s ashes was resolved with a court order spelling out the terms of visitation of the ashes.

The happiest times are the adoptions that take place, she said. The Probate Court oversees agency adoptions, foreign adoptions and children being adopted by the stepparent who is raising them.

“Those are the happiest ones of all,” Ayers said.

Ayers said she has wanted to retire for a long time. When she had thought about it earlier, she said, Rita Moran, the late Kennebec County Democratic Committee chairwoman, had advised Ayers find the next register of probate before leaving.


Ayers looked without much success, and then decided it was time to do what is right for herself.

And she is leaning on advice her mother gave her years ago.

“She said when you start seeing the estates of people you went to school with cross your desk,” Ayers said, “it’s time to go.”

Ayers’ mother, Donna Brennan Grant, was the Kennebec County register of probate for 18 years, and it was Grant who first hired Ayers.

“At the time, there was no nepotism policy,” Ayers said, with a laugh.

The Kennebec County Commissioners have since put a nepotism policy in place.


Ayers, who grew up in Manchester, put herself through the University of Maine at Orono to become a veterinary technician, and she was working at a local veterinary office when a dog attacked her, injuring her face.

“My mother was really unhappy about that,” Ayers said. “She had an opening and she said, ‘You’d be perfect for this, and it would be an easier job, and I like you.'”

Ayers began as a docket clerk, moved into guardianships and became assistant to longtime Probate Judge James Mitchell. When her mother retired before the end of her four-year term, Ayers was appointed to the position temporarily in July 1997. In October, then-Gov. Angus King appointed her to finish her mother’s term.

When the position came up for election again, Ayers ran, and has held the post since then, most recently winning reelection in November.

The process for filling the vacancy is spelled out in state law. In this case, because Ayers is a Democrat, the county’s Democratic Committee will forward recommendations to be considered by Gov. Janet Mills, who will appoint the person to serve until a successor is chosen in an election.

Scott Ferguson, Kennebec County administrator, said a letter has been drafted to the committee, with copies to Mills and Mitchell to initiate the process. The salary for the position in the county budget is $54,415.

In her retirement, Ayers said she might offer consulting services on probate matters, but she does not want to be a lobbyist.

She said she would rather spend her time gardening, making jewelry and visiting her adult children, who live in California and Seattle.

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