May 17, 2021

Dauphin County (PA) Launches Virtual Probate System using GovOS

Dauphin County brought its probate hearing system online using the GovOS eProbate System.
Posted by Karl Pawlewicz
An image of a city skyline in Dauphin County.

The following is an interview with Jean Marfizo King, Dauphin County Clerk of Orphans’ Court, and Sara Shaffer, First Deputy of the Dauphin County Orphans’ Court.

Jean Marfizo King, Dauphin County Clerk of Orphans’ Court

Prior to COVID, Dauphin County required people to come into our offices to submit filings for probate. When the pandemic hit, that came to a halt. We had to minimize exposure for our staff, and that meant restricting who could come into the courthouse. We decided to limit access to our office to evaluate our options. Limiting access to our courthouse office changed how we conducted business. Historically citizens were served on a first come, first serve basis. People came in and our staff attended to whomever entered our office by reviewing all of the petitioner’s paperwork to determine if all necessary documents were in order.

Sara Shaffer, First Deputy of the Dauphin County Orphans’ Court

Within five days after the courthouse closing to in-person filings, we built our own system to facilitate filings virtually. The initial version of our system relied heavily on emails and phone calls, and it was a lot of back-and-forth with customers. With email, we ran into issues with citizens who might not submit all necessary documents at the same time, or, submitted forms with incorrect or missing information. It required a lot of back-and-forth and our response times grew.

As we moved away from first come, first serve to appointments, scheduling became tricky. There was a lot of manual work being done to assign different staff members to different video days. We created an internal calendar for this, but still on top of that you had people scheduling and employees coming back from furlough, so it was very difficult to know exactly who was available when.

Despite the challenges, we built a process that our staff could follow to communicate with folks who were at home but needed help completing or submitting a filing. This was an important realization for us – that our old process could be done online. It was clunky, but it could be done. Once we felt confident we could continue business in a virtual setting, then we set to work to streamline the process.

We approached GovOS because we were already using their case management software for other applications. Their team evaluated our homegrown system and identified a number of areas where we could digitize and automate steps to reduce the number of touchpoints with customers. With their help, we launched our new Virtual Probate system, which is powered by the GovOS eProbate platform.

Dauphin County Statistics
  • Population: approx. 300,000
  • 1 elected dual officeholder
  • 6 full time employees

Results of GovOS Powered Programs
  • eProbate System – 92 virtual probate submissions in 2 months; 58 fully completed
  • Remote Marriage Licenses – 475 marriage license application submissions in 4 months; 347 licenses issued

The GovOS eProbate platform overcomes two major challenges in the system we built ourselves:

  • EMAIL – Instead of submitting a filing via email, citizens can now use a single portal to login and submit their filings. Within this portal, there are required form fields and required documentation sections.
  • SCHEDULING – Staff scheduling for video conferences is done using the GovOS eProbate scheduler function. Applicants can see which time slots are available and sign up for one that works best for their schedule. On the backend, this scheduler function syncs with our employees’ calendars, so it’s always up-to-date and accurate.

Once the applicant’s paperwork is processed and the video conference is scheduled, the rest of the process flows very smoothly. In that video session, we can swear people in, take their oath, and watch them execute their signature. It enables our team to meet the state’s requirements of formally acknowledging the personal representative without ever having to be there in-person.

At the end of it all, we’re still required to have the hard copies on hand, so citizens still have to mail those to us, or they can drop them in a drop box at the courthouse. But modernizing the process on the front end has made a huge difference. We anticipate that the majority of our cases this year (approximately 2,000) will go through this virtual process. That will be a significant cost savings to the county in terms of workforce hours.

Jean Marfizo King, Dauphin County Clerk of Orphans’ Court

Perhaps best of all: our new GovOS eProbate system, along with the GovOS Remote Marriage License Application we implemented at the end of 2020, is entirely paid for using CARES Act funding. Zero taxpayer dollars have been spent to upgrade these systems.

GovOS eProbate makes life safer and more convenient for our citizens during this pandemic. They don’t have to break away from their busy schedules to drive to the courthouse, find parking, wait for an available staff member, and go through the entire process in our office. It has also helped our county adhere to pandemic guidelines and ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff.

We are continuing to invest our time, energy and funding into our eProbate system with the expectation that we’ll still use it after pandemic