In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania there are three (3) divisions of the Court of Common Pleas. One of these is the Orphans’ Court. Each county has their own and it is designed serves to protect the civil, personal and property rights of anyone (or anything such as entities) who cannot manage their own affairs. The name “Orphans’ ” in the name of the Court is derived from the general definition of “orphan” as one lacking protection, not the common association of a child deprived by the death of his or her parents. It is the Court’s mission to insure that the best interests of those persons and entities, who are “Orphans’ ” in the general sense of the word, are not compromised. In 2021 Administrative Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper, Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello, Judge John W. Herron, and Judge George W. Overton are assigned to the Philadelphia County Orphans’ Court. If you are a member of the gay or LGBTQ+ communities in Pennsylvania and have needs related to guardianships or conservatorships please contact Philadelphia LGBT Estate Planning Attorney Angela Giampolo for a free consultation. She will explain all rights and legal options to you so you can make the best possible decision for your loved ones.
The Court’s jurisdiction extends to minors, incapacitated persons, decedents, trusts, principals and agents under powers of attorney, non-profit charitable organizations, cemetery companies, inalienable property and marriage licenses. The Court appoints guardians for minors and incapacitated persons to handle their financial affairs and/or their health and safety needs. The actions and accounts of fiduciaries, including guardians, agents under powers of attorney, executors, administrators, and trustees are examined and audited. The Court hears disputes involving inheritance and estate tax and marriage license issues. Questions regarding the administration and distribution of the decedents’, minors’ and incapacitated persons’ estates, testamentary and inter vivos trusts, special needs trusts, non-profit corporations organized for charitable purposes, as well as Appeals from the Register of Wills are adjudicated and resolved. Settlements of actions involving minors, incapacitated persons, decedent’s estates and wrongful death and survival beneficiaries are reviewed. Authorizations to act as an approved corporate fiduciary are issued by the Court.
The name “Orphans’ Court” confuses many people including, in reality, some lawyers. The name reportedly comes from London England’s “Court for Widows and Orphans” back in the 1700’s. Orphans’ Court was so named because much of the business of the Court consisted of addressing situations involving orphans (children who had lost their parents) and trying to ensure that each individual situation was resolved “in the best interest of the child”.
Now, Orphans’ Court refers to issues involving protecting the personal and property fights of persons and entities that may not be able to handle their own affairs. Orphans’ Court issues typically involve estate and probate matters, issues involving incapacitated persons, parental rights issues and adoptions. In Pennsylvania, parties in Orphans’ Court are not entitled to a jury trial; all contested issues are resolved by the judge.
Representation Regarding Orphans’ Court Matters
During the course of her legal career Pennsylvania Orphans’ Court Lawyer Angela Giampolo has handled many Orphans’ Court matters in Pennsylvania. The types of estate planning and guardianship matters in which she has experience include the following:
- Incapacitation Issues: Anyone who is in need of a guardian or for whom a guardianship proceeding is initiated is deemed incapacitated per Pennsylvania law. By statute, the issue in these cases is whether a person lacks the capacity to “manage his financial resources or to meet essential requirements for his physical health and safety.” If the Court determines that a person lacks the capacity to make decisions in this regard, a guardian will be appointed. A guardian can be granted limited powers (such as the power to attend to only financial or only health-related matters) or general powers (the power to attend to all issues affecting the individual).
- Termination of Parental Rights Cases: Termination of Parental Rights proceedings occur when a petitioner – frequently but now always the Office of Children and Youth – file a petition to terminate the parental rights of a parent or parents to a child. In such a proceeding, a judge must determine a number of issues including, without limitation, (i) whether a parent has demonstrated an inability, incapacity or refusal to provide essential parental care, and (ii) whether termination of the parental rights is in the best interest of the child. If a person’s parental rights are terminated, he or she cannot legally object to the subsequent adoption of the child by another.
If you or someone you know has an Orphans’ Court issue, please contact Pennsylvania LGBTQ Rights Attorney Angela Giampolo to discuss your rights and options. With offices in PA & NJ she provides statewide representation for each state for members of the gay and LGBTQIA communities.