What is Orphans’ Court Litigation?

August 17, 2020

The Orphans’ Court may evoke images of small, parentless children who are turning to the legal system for protection. While the roots of the name do come from its history of protecting the legal rights of widows and orphans, the court as it exists today deals with matters of estate law, such as conflicts related to estate funds and guardianships.

What is the Role of the Orphans’ Court?

The Orphans’ Court, also known as Probate Court or Surrogate Court, makes judgments regarding the management of rights to assets in an estate. The court’s focus is to ensure that the funds in a person’s estate end up going to the proper beneficiaries.

The Orphans’ Court functions as a check on the power of executors and administrators of estates to ensure that they are administering their duties.

In addition to jurisdiction over estate funds, trusts, and wills, the Orphans’ Court also makes judgments regarding the actions of persons acting as guardians for minors or agents with powers of attorney for incapacitated individuals.

What Types of Issues are Resolved in Orphans’ Court?

The Orphans’ Court deals mostly with disputes over wills and trusts or challenges for administrators to prove the accounts entrusted to them are being handled honestly.

The court handles administration issues for the estates of living persons as well as probate issues for the distribution of assets after a person’s death, including distribution to beneficiaries, and the recognition of the rights of the estate’s creditors. Also, the court protects against fraud, such as forgery, fiduciary fraud, elder fraud, and claims of undue influence.

Some of the most common issues on the docket at Orphans’ Court include will challenges, claims against fiduciary agents or powers of attorney, and guardianship appointments.

Are Mismanagement and Fraud Lawsuits Handled in Orphans’ Court?

The Orphans’ Court does not handle lawsuits, per se. Instead of suing an executor suspected of embezzlement, an interested party may file a petition to have the court look into the matter and offer a judgement.

The goal of the Orphans’ Court is not to rule for or against the petitioners or the respondents, but rather to ensure that the funds in the estate are being handled appropriately and end up going to the appropriate beneficiaries.

What is the Goal of Orphans’ Court Proceedings?

For those who petition the Orphans’ Court, the resolution would be a ruling that determines an appropriate solution to a claim of mismanagement, or a dispute about the validity of a claim to an estate. The court does not allow petitioners to claim damages other than those that seek to make the estate whole in the wake of mismanagement, or to grant assets of an estate to the proper beneficiaries. Likewise, punitive damages to punish fiduciary malfeasance are not available through the Orphans’ Court.

When disputes arise between interested parties, such as administrators, beneficiaries, and trustees, an experienced attorney can provide legal advice.

West Chester Estates Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Represent Interested Parties in Orphans’ Court

When estate or guardianship issues arise, people may disagree about how things are handled. Some may even suspect negligence or fraud. Our West Chester estates lawyers at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. can help you navigate Orphans’ Court proceedings and settle matters that will rectify the estate. Contact us online or call us at 610-565-3701 for a free consultation. Located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.