Not the "Register of Wills" Anymore!

Some areas of law change faster than others. Imagine the pace of change in laws regarding technology, the Internet, and the like!

Although laws concerning Wills, Estates, Executors, Administrators and estate administration may change more slowly, there are changes that have occurred in recent years. This post aims to outline one such change.

In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the age-old name of the “Register of Wills” office was changed in 2008 when the county changed the structure of much of its local government by adopting its “Home Rule Charter.” That office is now called the “Allegheny County Department of Court Records, Wills and Orphans Court Division.” In all other Pennsylvania counties, the office s still called the Register of Wills.

Three previously elected positions in the so-called “Row Offices,” the Register of Wills, Clerk of Orphans Court, and Prothonotary were combined into a single office with an appointed professional Director. Now one administrative office handles the court paperwork for the old “Register of Wills” and for all of the divisions of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (the Civil, Criminal, Family and Orphans Court Divisions of the Court).

The cases handled by the Register of Wills – oops, I mean, Wills and Orphans Court Division of the Department of Court Records – have remained the same, though. That office handles paperwork to open new Estates after someone has died, appoints the Executor or Administrator for the estate and usually handles initial disputes concerning these matters.

To “probate” a Will, coming from a Latin root meaning “to prove,” means to file the original Last Will and Testament (ordinarily, not a copy) and have it accepted by the authorities as the valid Last Will and Testament of the decedent. The “proof” that the Will is legitimate usually appears both in the content of the Will as it appears on the pages, and from separate filings such as the Petition for Probate and Grant of Lettevrs, or sometimes from separate Affidavits or sworn statements about the Will. for example, how and when it was signed and witnessed.

The Department of Court Records, Wills and Orphans Court Division in downtown Pittsburgh handles the creation or opening of a new probate estate for a decedent, the appointment of the individual legal representative(s) of the estate and any successors in that position, and any dispute about accepting a will for Probate, opening a new estate or deciding who should be appointed as the legal representative(s). The Department of Court Records, Wills and Orphans Court Division also works closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue regarding PA Inheritance Tax assessed on assets left behind to be inherited by others. The Department accepts Inheritance Tax Returns for filing, collects Inheritance Tax payments and of course keeps records regarding these activities.

The Orphans Court Division of the Court is where actual Judges decide cases that have moved beyond the initial determination phase by the Department of Court Records, such as when a party appeals from the decision at that first level.

The Orphans Court Division also handles many other types of related cases, including: disputes regarding Powers of Attorney or Trusts; Guardianships for a minor child or for an incapacitated adult; Involuntary Mental Health Commitments for persons with mental illness; disputes concerning estate and inheritance Tax; disagreements concerning title to land, and others.

For more information, please see the free legal information pages of this website regarding “After a Loved One Has Died.”

Also, I would love to hear about any other topics on which you might like information.

We will gladly review your Will or Estate Plan to ensure it is up-to-date.