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When a caveat was filed, objection made to the granting of letters of administration, or when any disputable or difficult matter came into controversy, the register, at the request of any person interested, was required to call a register's court for the decision thereof. So also, an appeal might be taken to the register's court from all the judicial acts and decisions of the register. The register's court comprised the register of wills and the judges of the court of common pleas of the county or any two of said judges.
After the register had allowed and filed any account in his office, he was required to prepare and present a certified copy thereof to the orphans' court at its next stated meeting and give notice by public advertisement that said accounts would be presented to the orphans' court for confirmation.
The judges of the court of common pleas of each county or any two of them composed the orphans' court, which was declared a court of record, the decrees of which were not to be reversed or avoided collaterally in any other court. The jurisdiction of the court was summarized in the act as follows:
“The jurisdiction of the several Orphans' Courts of this Commonwealth shall extend to and embrace the appointment, control, removal and discharge of guardians, the settlement of their accounts, the removal and discharge of executors and administrators deriving their authority from the register of the respective county, the settlement of the accounts of such executors and administrators and the distribution of the assets or surplusage of the estates of decedents, after such settlements among creditors or others interested in the sale or partition of the real estate of decedents among the heirs, and generally to all cases within their respective counties, wherein executors, administrators, guardians or trustees are or may be possessed of or undertake the care and management of, or are in any way accountable for any real or personal estate of a decedent, and such jurisdiction shall be exercised in the manner hereinafter provided."1
1 Section 4 of the Act of March 29, 1832, P. L. 190.
No account of an executor, administrator or guardian was to be confirmed and allowed by the court unless advertised by the register of wills as provided in the prior act and all accounts, except partial accounts by guardians, were to be examined by the court or referred to auditors, unless otherwise agreed by all parties in interest. These provisions were adopted to compel a more thorough audit of accounts. Under the prior practice the settlement of accounts in the register's office was generally a perfunctory matter and no more than a mere vouching of the items of the account, while the confirmation in the orphans' court was largely a matter of form. A reform in these matters was absolutely necessary if the decrees of the orphans' court were to be made conclusive. Finally the practice and process of the orphans' court were defined and strengthened. Writing in 1847, Mr. Hood observed :
“The orphans' court, as at present constituted, is a court of a peculiar nature both as respects its jurisdiction, powers, and the forms of its proceedings, partaking of the characters of a court of common law, a court of equity, and an ecclesiastical court. The process of the orphans' court would seem, in some respects, to resemble that of the English ecclesiastical courts, whose proceedings are regulated according to the practice of the civil and canon law; or rather according to a mixture of both collected and new-modelled by their own particular usages and the interpretation of the courts of common law. It was this establishment of the civil law process in the ecclesiastical courts that made a coalition impracticable between them and the national tribunals of England. The act of 1832 has remodelled the forms of proceeding in the orphans' court, making them approximate more nearly to the common law. Hence, in the orphans' court practice, are found the motion, rule, fieri facias, and sub poena of the common law courts, the petition of chancery, and the citation of doctors commons; and mingled with them, the order, decree, and sequestration derived through these equity and ecclesiastical tribunals, from the civil and canon laws. In one respect the orphans' court may be said to be of a higher nature than the court of chancery and the ecclesiastical courts of
COURTS OF PENNSYLVANIA
England: for the court of chancery, when proceeding by subpoena, is not a court of record, nor are the ecclesiastical tribunals, courts of record.”1
Under the Act of 1832, and some additional acts relating to decedents' estates subsequently passed on the recommendation of the commissioners, the orphans' courts reached their full dignity as courts of record and have justified their creation by a long career of usefulness. The confidence of the community has been further marked by the extension of their jurisdiction in numerous cases as, for example, under the Price Act. To fully describe the powers of the court would exceed the limits of this chapter and indeed open up the whole subject of orphans' court practice, a matter that has been thoroughly discussed in several text books. It is necessary, however, to refer to certain changes brought about by the constitution of 1874 which abolished the register's court and conferred its jurisdiction on the orphans' court, provided for the establishment of separate orphans' courts in counties having a population exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand, and directed that all accounts filed with the register of wills, as clerk of a separate orphans' court, should be audited by the court without expense to the parties, unless the parties themselves nominated an auditor. 4
These changes have proved most beneficial. The registers' court was unnecessary and was wisely abolished, while the creation of separate orphans' courts in the larger communities has been particularly advantageous in furnishing to the judiciary of the state a corps of
1 Hood on Executors, 103.
3 Scott on the Intestate System of Pennsylvania, Rhone's Orphans' Court Practice, Brewster's Orphans' Court Practice, Pepper and Lewis's Digest of Decisions, Vol. 14, col. 24234.
4 Article V, § 22, Constitution of 1874; see appendix.
experts, specially trained in the handling of those difficult and intricate problems arising out of the devolution of property by death. The name of the court today indicates but a small part of its functions, but is an historic illustration of the way in which great institutions sometimes grow from small beginnings.
In tracing the early history of the judicial proceedings by which roads and streets are laid out and opened in Pennsylvania, the common law of England lends little assistance. The physical conditions in colony and mother country were so radically different as to afford little analogy in matters of local or municipal regulation. In England, at the time of the settlement of the province, the country was traversed in every direction, from town to town and village to village, by ways so well defined by custom and so well established by reputation, that a complaint of want of thoroughfare was uncommon. In Pennsylvania, as in the other colonies, the opening of roads for public travel and for the transportation of commodities was an immediate and pressing economic necessity.
The science of road construction was still in its infancy and throughout England roads were, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in a deplorable condition. In the first year of the reign of Queen Anne, Charles III of Spain visited England. His experiences on the road between Portsmouth and Petworth in Sussex are thus related by one of his suite :
“We set out at six in the morning by torchlight to go to Petworth and did not get out of the coaches (sa ve only when we were overturned or stuck fast in the mire) till we arrived at our journey's end. 'Twas a hard service for the Prince to sit fourteen hours in the coach that day without eating anything, and passing through the worst ways I ever saw in my life. We were thrown but once, indeed, in going, but our coach (which was the leading one) and his Highness's body coach would have suffered very much if the nimble boors of Sussex had not frequently poised it or supported it with their shoulders from
1 Woolwych on Ways, 6.