What is the orphans' court?

The Pennsylvania Orphans' Courts compose a statewide judicial division in which you would handle any probate issues involving a will a loved one left behind. The Allegheny County court also has mandatory jurisdiction over 21 other categories of civil matters you may have.

This broad jurisdiction may make it somewhat difficult for you to understand the behavior of the courts in your case. The good news is that you would only need to focus on the items that apply specifically to you when researching timelines, court procedure and fiduciary requirements.

In terms of executing a will, you would probably need to perform a limited set of complex procedures. Among these, the most challenging would likely be the systematic organization of all of the financial information relevant to your loved one's estate and its subsequent filing with the court. In some cases, you may also have to deal with the location of assets and settling of debts.

While you could conceivably do all of this yourself, many people choose to appoint a representative. To that end, it may be useful to know that there are many rules you would have to follow. As you may discover on the Allegheny County Courts site, regulations in state law, rules that the Pennsylvania Supreme Orphans' Court issues and mandates at the county level all come together to govern the specific legal procedure for each action.

Some of the categories the orphans' courts handle relate closely to wills. For example, you would use this court to handle trust matters and process absentee estates. Others, such as marriage licenses and adoption, are not typically what you would expect of the jurisdiction of a probate division. Correctly following procedure and performing your responsibilities on the mandated timeline often results in a smoothly executed will. Therefore, it would probably be most advantageous to begin your investigations based on the specific requirements of your case.

The bottom line is that your estate matters, even some of those including trusts, will most likely pass through the orphans' court. However, please do not regard this as advice. It is only background information.

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