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
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
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