The Orphans' Court Division is one of the three divisions of the Court of Common Pleas, and serves to protect the personal and property rights of all persons and entities who are otherwise incapable of managing their own affairs. The name "Orphans" in the name of the Court is derived from the general definition of "orphan" as one lacking protection, not the common association of a child deprived by the death of his or her parents. It is the Court's mission to insure that the best interests of those persons and entities, who are "orphans" in the general sense of the word, are not compromised.
Currently assigned to the Orphans' Court Division are Administrative Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello, Judge John W. Herron, and Judge George W. Overton.
The Court's jurisdiction extends to minors, incapacitated persons, decedents, trusts, principals and agents under powers of attorney, non-profit charitable organizations, cemetery companies, birth records and marriage licenses. The Court appoints guardians for minors and incapacitated persons to handle their financial affairs and/or their health and safety needs. The actions and accounts of fiduciaries, including guardians, agents under powers of attorney, executors, administrators, and trustees are examined and audited. The Court hears disputes involving inheritance and estate tax and marital license issues. Questions regarding the administration and distribution of the decedents', minors' and incapacitated persons' estates, testamentary and inter vivos trusts, special needs trusts, non-profit corporations organized for charitable purposes, as well as Appeals from the Register of Wills are adjudicated and resolved. Settlements of actions involving minors, incapacitated persons, decedent's estates and wrongful death and survival beneficiaries are reviewed. Authorizations to act as an approved corporate fiduciary are issued by the Court.
Resources available on the Orphans' Court's website include: a Guardian's Manual, the current year's Audit List Calendar, the list of currently approved Corporate Fiduciaries, a manual and tutorial to the electronic filing system, the Orphans' Court Rules for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County Orphans' Court Rules, Links to commonly used Forms and the Philadelphia Estate Practitioner Handbook as well as access to the Online Docket System and the Electronic Filing System.
Orphans Court Administration is located in room 300 City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107 (215) 686-7342
Judicial Telephone and Fax Directory
Administrative Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello
Phone 215 686-7902
Fax 215 686-9534
Judge John W. Herron
Phone 215 686-7344
Fax 215 686-2831
Judge George W. Overton
Phone 215 686-7328
Fax 215 686-2633
The History of Orphans' Court
Philadelphians can take pride in the fact that Orphans' Courts have been held in this City since 1683. They can further take pride in the able and distinguished jurists who have sat as Judges of those Courts. The current Judges of this Division continue a long and illustrious tradition.
King Charles II granted the province of Pennsylvania to William Penn by Royal Charter dated March 4, 1681. William Penn came to Pennsylvania in October of 1682 and called a General Assembly. See Section 1, pages 11-12 of The Pennsylvania Manual, Volume 112 (December, 1995) Sitting at Chester, on December 7, 1682, the first General Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania enacted the 77th Law which provided that the justices of each County Court should sit, "....to inspect and take care of the estates, usage, and employment of orphans, which shall be called the Orphans' Court * * * That care may be taken for those, that are not able to take care for themselves." See Opinion by Trimble, P.J., in Harton's Estate (No. 2), 86 P.L.J. 18, at page 21 (1938). "It is probable, that both the name and jurisdiction of this court were borrowed from the Court of Orphans of the city of London, which had the care and guardianship of children of deceased citizens of London, in their minority, and could compel executors to file inventories, and give security for their estates." See Opinion by Justice Sergeant in the matter of Wimmer's Appeal, 1 Wh. 95, 101 (1835).
The Orphans' Court of Philadelphia County was organized as a separate court of record under the Constitution of 1874, on January 4, 1875, and consisted of three judges. Three more judges were added, one each, in 1887, 1907 and 1927. Judge Allen M. Stearne and Judge Grover C. Ladner rose to become Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Judge Charles Klein was appointed to the Court on December 24, 1934, and, became President Judge on January 14, 1952. Judge Klein served as the last President Judge of the Orphans' Court of Philadelphia County, and, the first Administrative Judge of the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. By constitutional amendment, effective January 1, 1969, the separate Orphans' Court of Philadelphia County was abolished and became the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.
From January 4, 1875 to January 1, 1969, the following Judges sat on the Orphans' Court of Philadelphia County:
|William B. Hanna||Dennis W. O'Brien||T. Bradford Dwight|
|William N. Ashman||Clement B. Penrose||Joseph C. Ferguson|
|Morris Dallett||Joseph F. Lamorelle||Edward A. Anderson|
|Charles Francis Gummey||John Marshall Gest||George Henderson|
|Henry C. Thompson, Jr.||Lewis H. Van Dusen||Allen M. Stearne|
|Charles Sinkler||Charles Klein||Curtis Bok|
|Robert V. Bolger||Grover C. Ladner||David G. Hunter|
|John P. Boland||Mark E. Lefever||Harold D. Saylor|
|Kendall H. Shoyer||Joseph D. Burke|
On January 1, 1969, the Orphans' Court of Philadelphia became a division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Since the merger, the following Judges have sat in the Orphans' Court Division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas:
|Charles Klein||Robert V. Bolger||Mark E. Lefever|
|Harold D. Saylor||Kendall H. Shoyer||Joseph D. Burke|
|Edmund S. Pawelec||Paul Silverstein||Theodore S. Gutowicz|
|Joseph C. Bruno||Judith Jamison||Alex Bonavitacola|
|Theodore A. McKee||Kathryn S. Lewis||Frank X. O'Brien|
|Levan Gordon||Petrese B. Tucker||Anne E. Lazarus|
|Joseph D. O'Keefe||Lynn B. Hamlin||John W. Herron|
|Matthew D. Carrafiello||George W. Overton|
The history of the position of Administrative Judge of the Orphans' Court Division is as follows:
Judge Edmund S. Pawelec January 5, 1976 - July 1, 1992
Judge Kathryn S. Lewis July 1, 1992 - April 1, 1996
Judge Petrese B. Tucker April 1, 1996 - July 14, 2000
Judge Alex Bonavitacola* July 14, 2000 - December 22, 2000
Judge Joseph D. O'Keefe December 22, 2000 - December 31, 2014
Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello January 5, 2015 - Present
*Judge Bonavitacola, as President Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, assumed a "Supervisory" role over the Orphans' Court until Judge O'Keefe was named as successor to Judge Tucker.
The Register of Wills of Philadelphia County is the ex officio Clerk of the Orphans' Court which maintains and certifies Orphans' Court records, issues citations, marriage licenses and other process.
City Hall, Room 415
Philadelphia, PA 19107
For Questions Concerning Electronic Filing or To Report Electronic Filing Problems, please contact us via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For general filing information please call:
Ronald R. Donatucci, Esq., Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans' Court
For information on the viewing of records or purchasing copies of records please call:
For Marriage License information concerning application requirements and fees please call:
The following materials on incapacity proceedings were made available to the bar as part of a CLE Course. They are intended for informational use only and should not be considered official court or court endorsed forms.