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.