Thursday, April 04, 2013

PA Orphans' Court Rules Proposed for Sweeping Changes

On April 3, 2013, the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System website posted a news article entitled Input Sought on Proposed Rewrite of 40-year-old Orphans' Court Rules, which announced: "A substantial overhaul of the current Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules, which have remained relatively intact for nearly four decades, is being proposed."

The article continued:
The Supreme Court’s Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee is seeking input from attorneys, judges and the public concerning the proposal, including those comments that may address only a specific rule or series of rules.
Interested parties may submit suggestions, comments, and/or objections in writing to the committee no later than June 13, 2013 to Lisa M. Rhode, Counsel, in the following ways:
(717) 231-9551
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee
601 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite 6200
Harrisburg, PA 17106-2635
Proposed new Pennsylvania Orphans' Court Rules (PDF, 56 pages; See also: Official forms as published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, April 13, 2013, in Vol. 43, No.15, beginning at Page 654) -- when revised after consideration of comments to be offered (no later than June 13, 2013) by the public, then finalized by the Committee, and thereafter submitted for adoption by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court -- will be more than five years in the making, about forty years after the last comprehensive restatement of such rules.  

Once adopted, the final version of such new rules would take effect some time thereafter to be applicable statewide to all Orphans' Court jurisdiction matters and in all Orphans' Court Division proceedings in the Courts of Common Pleas in this Commonwealth.

The Proposed New Pa.O.C. Rules 1.1 – 11.6 and Publication Notice and Explanatory Notes are posted in PDF forms on the web page devoted to the PA Supreme Court Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee.  See also: Official forms as published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, April 13, 2013, in Vol. 43, No.15, beginning at Page 654).

The Publication Notice for the proposed new rules states as follows:
The Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee intends to recommend that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania vacate Orphans’ Court Rules 1.1 through 14.5 and adopt new Orphans’ Court Rules governing the practice and procedures for the areas currently covered by these rules.
The new rules are divided into sections addressing, inter alia, the filing and audit of Accounts, procedures for Orphans’ Court matters raised by citation and petition, pre-hearing and post-hearing dispositions, and rules for practice before the Registers of Wills.
In some cases, the current Orphans’ Court rule has not been modified substantially, but is merely being relocated to a new section based upon the revised structure of the proposed new rules (e.g., Rules governing Specific Types of Petitions are moved from Rule 12 to Chapter IV and Rules governing Guardianships are moved from Rule 14 to Chapter V).
The proposal also contains Explanatory Comments, which accompany certain rules to elucidate upon the addition or modification of certain provisions or to provide additional analysis of the relationship between the particular rule and another Orphans’ Court rule and/or statutory provisions in the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code.
This proposal has not been submitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for review in advance of this publication. The proposal, though, has been reviewed by an advisory group of Orphans’ Court judges appointed by then-Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, and these judges have provided insights, comments, and suggestions incorporated into the proposal that is being published. * * * [Paragraphing added.]
The Explanatory Report notes the objectives of the revision project outlined in October, 2007, and the extent of the revision project since then:
The proposed rule review is intended to:
• Promote standardization of statewide practice and reduce variations caused by reliance on local practice.
• Provide better direction to practitioners and judges throughout the state, especially in counties without dedicated Orphans’ Court divisions.
• Clarify certain procedures involving citation practice and pleadings.
• Harmonize Orphans’ Court proceedings with general civil practice to the extent possible, given the unique subject matter within Orphans’ Court jurisdiction.

This project has continued in earnest for nearly five years. The Committee extends recognition and gratitude to prior Committee Chairs, Judge Calvin S. Drayer and Mary Jane Barrett, Esq., for their leadership and commitment to this project.
The Committee now publishes its proposal and solicits the input, comments and suggestions of practitioners and jurist throughout the Commonwealth, particularly those who practice routinely in the Orphans’ Court divisions of various counties. * * *
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee reviews current rules governing statewide practice and procedure in the Orphans’ Court and recommends new rules as necessary.

The Committee's current Members are: Margaret Gallagher Thompson, Esq., Chair; Lisa Marie Coyne, Esq.; Eugene H. Gillin, Esq.; Neil E. Hendershot, Esq.; Jeffrey R. Hoffmann, Esq.; Paul Kuntz, ex officio; John F. Meck, Esq.; and Honorable Lawrence J. O'Toole.

The Committee is supported by staff members: Lisa M. Rhode, Esq., as Counsel; James F. Mannion, Esq., as Deputy Counsel; and Elizabeth J. Knott, as Administrative Assistant.

I will make a presentation upon the proposed new Orphans' Court Rules during the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, through its Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section, on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, from 3:15 - 4:15 p.m., at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Hotel Downtown.

I will speak not as an Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee member (for the past six years), but as a PBA-RPPT member during its Annual Retreat.  I will encourage local bar associations and the two statewide PBA sections having an interest -- the Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section, and the Elder Law Section -- to offer comments in writing before June 13, 2013.

Other community, governmental, business, and service organizations interfacing with Orphans' Court proceedings should also review the proposed new rules and make comments towards improvement or clarification.