Beginning in 1682, Pennsylvania created a separate court division called Orphans’ Court. In 1968, the Orphans’ Court became part of the Courts of Common Pleas. The primary purpose of the Orphans’ Court has been to protect orphan children and their right to their deceased family member’s estate from claims against stepparents and other potential beneficiaries. Orphans’ Courts also handle guardianship matters, charitable nonprofit issues, and probate matters.
Discuss Your Case With an Experienced Lawyer
At Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace, our experienced estate planning lawyers represent clients in all estate and trust matters. We have extensive experience representing clients in Pennsylvania Orphans’ Court. If you have any questions related to a probate matter, we can help. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation to learn more about how we can advocate for you.
Understanding the Orphans’ Court
The Orphans’ court is one part of Pennsylvania’s civil court system. Judges in Orphans’ Court deal with specific areas of Pennsylvania’s civil laws, such as probate matters and guardianship issues. Even though the Orphans’ Court is part of Pennsylvania’s civil court system, they have separate rules of procedure. At Jones Gregg Creehan Gerace, our estate planning lawyers have extensive experience representing clients in front of the Orphans’ Court. We also have an in-depth understanding of the unique rules and practices required by the Orphans’ Court.
What Types of Cases Do Orphans’ Courts Oversee?
Orphans’ Courts decide the validity of wills, oversee the distribution of assets for deceased individuals, and enforce the provisions of valid wills. Orphans’ Court also prevents fraud and other types of malfeasance by estate executors and administrators. Finally, Orphans’ Courts provide the fair distribution of assets for people who die without a legal will, also called dying intestate. Examples of matters handled by the Orphans’ Court include the following:
- The interpretation and reformation of trust agreements and wills
- The administration and distribution of trust and estate assets
- Private foundation rules
- Issues surrounding required mandatory distributions
- Surcharge demands
- Cy pres proceedings
- Will contests
- Fee and commission challenges
- Prenuptial and antenuptial agreements
- Powers of attorney
- Breaches of duty, neglect, or delays by a trustee
- Termination of parental rights and adoptions
- Adjudications of incompetency
- Inheritance tax appeals
Pursuing an Adoption in Orphans’ Court
Whether you are engaged in a private adoption or seeking to adopt a grandchild or stepchild legally, you will benefit from working with an experienced lawyer. At Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace, our experienced adoption lawyers offer confident, strong representation for families who wish to adopt a child. We also have experience representing biological parents during the adoption process. Orphans’ Courts handle a variety of adoption-related proceedings, including the following matters:
- Termination of parental rights
- Private adoptions
- Agency adoptions
- Foster care adoptions
- Step-parent adoptions
- Second-parent adoptions
- Registration of foreign adoption decrees
- Foreign re-adoptions
Will Contest Litigation in Orphans’ Court
In Pennsylvania, Orphans’ Courts have jurisdiction to decide disputes over a person’s last will and testament. A will contest occurs when a person challenges another person’s last will and testament. In some cases, will contests result in complex litigation that can be expensive and time-consuming. The sooner you contact a lawyer to help you with the will contest you’re involved in, the better. After investigating your case, your lawyer will gather evidence during the discovery process. The judge will schedule a trial without a jury, and your lawyer will present evidence on your behalf.
Only legal standing people have a right to bring a will contest before the Orphans’ Court. The first step in enforcing a will in Pittsburg is to submit the will to the Pittsburg Register of Wills. If the Register decides the will is valid, a person harmed by the Register’s decision has the legal standing to contest the will before the Pittsburg Orphans’ Court. There are several different ways to challenge a will in Pennsylvania. Most frequently, people contest a will for the following reasons:
- Undue influence
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Improper execution
- Lack of testamentary intent
- Improper revocation of a previous will
- Tortious interference with inheritance
- Insane delusion
When it’s advantageous for a client, one of our probate lawyers will try to negotiate with the other party to resolve the matter out of court. However, in some circumstances, the other party will not agree to terms that are fair to our clients. In those cases, disputes cannot be resolved by agreement and formal litigation becomes necessary. All of our lawyers are trial-ready and prepared to take your case before the Orphans’ Court in litigation.
Appointment and Control of Guardians
Pennsylvania Orphans’ Court has the jurisdiction to handle all cases involving the appointment of guardians for minors or incapacitated individuals. Investigators from the Orphans’ Court review guardianship petitions before they present them to the judge. The judge will review the petition and set a hearing date.
When an adult family member becomes unable to care for himself or herself, it could become necessary to have an adult guardian appointed by the Orphans’ Court. Judges have the authority to appoint a guardian whether or not the adult is in a nursing home or assisted living facility. The judge can appoint a guardian to care for the person, the person’s property, or both.
In some cases, another family member will challenge the person petitioning to be appointed as the guardian. Ultimately, the person in question may decline to consent to the guardianship. When guardianship disputes can’t be resolved, it’s wise to consult with an experienced lawyer.
Audits of Administrators, Executors, Trustees, and Guardians
Estate administers, and executors have legal or fiduciary duties they must uphold. Likewise, guardians must keep a record of the finances involved with the guardianship. Estate administrators and executives must keep an account of the estate and all of the transactions. The Orphans’ Court handles claims of fraud or mismanagement of estates and trusts.
Discuss Your Case With a Pittsburgh Lawyer
The lawyers in our estate planning division serve as counselors, negotiators, and advisers for our clients. Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace has the legal resources, both financially and through our experience, to manage your case successfully from start to finish. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.