Orphans’ Court – Montgomery County, PA
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
Over the years, I have been involved in many Orphans’ Court matters in Pennsylvania. I am on the short list of people court-appointed (meaning appointed by judges) to represent people involved in Orphans’ Court matter who cannot afford an attorney. (In these cases, the legal fees are typically paid by the County or by a party to the proceedings by order of the Court.)
The types of Orphans’ Court matters in which I have significant experience include the following:
Incapacitation Issues: An incapacitated person is one who has a guardian or for whom a guardianship proceeding is initiated. 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 the Law Office of Erik Petersen to discuss your rights and options.