On February 13, 2012, new amendments to the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure took effect and made substantial changes to the right to appeal from orders entered by Pennsylvania’s Orphans’ Courts. The Orphans’ Court Divisions of the Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas have jurisdiction in a wide variety of domestic relations matters, including adoptions, custody of minors, and guardianships. They also have broad jurisdiction over matters involving nonprofit corporations, public charities, trusts, and decedents’ estates. Rules regarding appeals from decisions of Orphans’ Courts therefore are important to both individuals and businesses throughout the Commonwealth. In particular, anyone who receives a distribution as a beneficiary of a public charity (such as a hospital or educational institution named in a charitable trust established by a decedent’s will) is subject to the amended rules. Similarly, anyone who administers a trust or nonprofit corporation (a financial institution serving as an institutional fiduciary, for example) is bound by these changes.
Under the prior rules, appeals could be taken from most Orphans’ Court decisions only if the Orphans’ Court itself determined that its decision was final and, therefore, appealable. That rule afforded a certain measure of flexibility and an increased degree of notice to the parties involved. But according to the Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review such matters, this provision was applied so inconsistently by the various Orphans’ Courts around the State that it had to be abandoned. In its place, the Supreme Court promulgated a substantially revised Appellate Rule 342, which contains a list of Orphans’ Court orders as to which there is a right of immediate appeal. Under this amended rule, all orders on this list must be appealed within the Appellate Rules’ deadlines (usually, within 30 days after entry of the order), and an affected party’s failure to file such an appeal “shall constitute a waiver of all objections to such order and such objections may not be raised in any subsequent appeal.”
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