Probate/Estates
 
Does the register of wills have my will on file?
 
Living persons do NOT have wills 'registered' and stored by the county Register of Wills. Original wills are usually kept secure by the attorney who prepared the will, in the vault of a trust department, or in a safe deposit box belonging to the testator (person who wrote the will).
 
If named in a will, can I simply assume my responsibilities to carry out the terms of that will?
 
Before any individual or institution is legally eligible to take possession of the assets of an estate, he or she must have authorization by the Court to do so. This authority is granted by the Register of Wills in a document called letters testamentary after the will has been probated (or proven to be authentic).
 
If a short certificate is needed to liquidate or receive certain assets of a decedent, can I purchase one from the register's office?
 
Once an individual or institution has court authorization to take possession of any assets, a short certificate may be required before those assets can be released. As many short certificates as necessary may be purchased from the Register's Office after the formal opening of an estate or probate of will. Under no other circumstances as defined by law will the Berks County Register of Wills issue a short certificate.
 
What documents and persons are required to probate a will?
  • A completed petition for probate and grant of letters (forms available online, in the Register's office & County Bar Association)
  • An original will, codicil, and/or any other related documents giving direction as to how property should be disposed upon death
  • A death certificate
  • Appearance of executor(s)
  • Witnesses to will (not necessary if will is self-proven)
  • Sworn English translation if will is written in a foreign language
  • A check or cash to cover probate fees (based on value of estate)
Can I probate in any courthouse of my convenience?
 
Wills are generally accepted for probate only in the county where the decedent was legally domiciled at the time of death.
 
Can the register of wills guide me through estate administration or must I seek legal counsel?
 
Estate administration is conducted more effectively with the assistance of legal counsel. Clerks in the Register's office who process various estate-related documents are not familiar with assets and obligations of the estate which is being administered.
 
It is the duty and obligation of the personal representative (executor or administrator) to protect estate assets. It may be necessary to review many documents (insurance policies, bills, motor vehicle titles, employee benefit information, business agreements, recent income tax returns, medical or disability insurances, bonds, stocks, and numerous other sources).
 
The Register of Wills and staff are not licensed to give legal advice. Professional executors (attorneys and trust departments) may receive no greater compensation than an individual who serves as a personal representative. They could save time and money in the long run due to their knowledge and experience.
 
What happens to the estate if the decedent died intestate (leaving no will)?
 
Where there is no will, an administrator is appointed by the court to handle the estate. Individuals or institutions entitled to administer an estate are established by law. This authority is granted by the Register of Wills in a document called letters of administration. The decedent's estate is then distributed according to a formula which is also set forth by law. These "intestacy" laws name the beneficiaries and the amount to which they are entitled.
 
By leaving no will, your property may be inherited by relatives you do not want to share in your estate.
 
Can any distribution be made without probate and grant of letters or a judicial decision (orphan's court)?
 
Yes. Section 3101 of the Probate, Estates, and Fiduciaries Code extends the authority to any savings institution to release up to $3,500 to family members with an original death certificate and receipted funeral bill. Life insurance companies may release certain monies under $11,000 to named family members rather than to the estate. Also included in the act are patient accounts (not exceeding $3,500) which have been kept by various health care institutions.
 
This information has been made available to you as a public service by the Berks County Register of Wills' office. Responses are general and individual facts in a specific case may alter routine procedures or involve other laws not referred to here.