If the deceased has left a will, it is filed for probate in the office of the Register of Wills in the county in which the decedent resided. If the will is valid, its directions are followed in distributing the estate to the beneficiaries.
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The Register of Wills office is located in the Washington County Courthouse, 1 S. Main Street, Suite 1002, Washington, PA 15301
The Register of Wills office is open from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, Monday- Friday, excluding holidays.
Yes. You can call the office at 724-228-6775. If you are able to provide a name, we can do a limited search of our records for a file number. Once located, more detailed information can be requested. There could be a nominal fee to request these types of searches.
The Register of Wills records go back to the late 1700’s. Marriage license records go back to 1885. The Register of Wills records has birth and death records 1893 – 1906. We are in the middle of scanning our older documents and have documents in storage. Keep track of our scanning and searching progress over the next few years.
Most of the records at the Register of Wills office are available and open to the public. However, we do hold Orphans Court files, including adoptions, which are not open to the public.
The Register of Wills probates wills and appoints representatives for decedents who die with or without a will. The decedent MUST have been a resident of Washington County at the time of death. The Register of Wills also serves as an agent for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for filing and payment of Inheritance Taxes.
This is the process known as probate of the will. The procedure requires that the original will be brought to the office where it is examined for proper execution. Such things as signatures of the decedent and witnesses are checked. Due to the complexities of proper execution, it is strongly recommended that you contact an attorney for the preparation and probate of a will.
There are many reasons to register a will. Chief among these is the transfer of property, real estate or personal, from the decedent to beneficiaries.
Probate is the procedure by which a will is proved to be a valid or invalid according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Simply put, it means to die without a will.
If there are assets that must be transferred from the decedent to beneficiaries, you must come to the Register of Wills office. If you qualify, you may be appointed estate administrator.
A short certificate is a document that is certified proof of the appointment of the Estate’s Personal Representative (Executor or Administrator). It is required to gain access to the assets of the decedent. The term “short” certificate refers to the size of the document.
We are required by law to retain the original will. Since all records in this office are kept “forever,” the original document will always be available in some form. It is recommended that you make a copy of the original will for your records before you come to the office.
No. A will is not registered until the person who writes it (testator) dies. It is important that someone, usually your executor, knows the location of your will or the name of the attorney who prepared it.
We suggest that you contact an attorney for the form of the petition that must be prepared and presented to the Register of Wills to accept a copy of the will for probate. We cannot accept a copy. A petition and order must be presented to the judge to review and sign. Additional fees will be applied when filing a petition and order.
A testator is the person who wrote the will.
A Will is a written document signed by a person at least eighteen (18) years of age and of sound mind wherein that person directs the distribution of property at death. The Will may also appoint guardians of the estates of minors who receive property under the Will.
Yes. Generally, for young married persons - to dispose of their property and to appoint proper persons as the guardians of the persons and estates of their minor children; for the middle-aged - to provide a plan of distribution for their dependents by benefiting those with the greatest need and conserving their property for their spouse and/or children; and, for the elderly - to make distributions which benefit spouse, children, grandchild and charities.
Pennsylvania law applies to the appointment of personal representative and the distribution of property by designating the heirs and their share of the decedent’s estate. Guardians of the person and the property of minors must be appointed by the Orphans’ Court.
A Will is effective at the death of the testator. It may be revoked at any time prior to death by a Will or Codicil later in date or by destruction of the Will itself by the testator. The Will, which the Register may allow to Probate, is the last Will signed by the testator.
No. The law does not require eyewitnesses (subscribing witnesses) to the signature of the testator in order for the Will to be valid. However, it is the custom to have two (2) subscribing witnesses present since at the time of probate, two (2) witnesses, subscribing or non-subscribing, must appear and identify under oath the signature of the decedent on the Will. Wills can be made self-proven if proper acknowledgements and affidavits are signed by the testator and witnesses at the time of execution. Self-proving Wills eliminate the need for the witnesses appearing at the Register’s office.
Property owned solely in the name of the decedent passes by Will. Property owned by the entireties (husband and wife), jointly or in the trust does not pass by Will. Advice as to what specific property does or does not pass by Will and what property is or is not subject to Pennsylvania Inheritance Taxes should be obtained from your attorney.
No. A Will does not ’expire’ or become invalid because of the passage of time. It becomes operative when a person dies. A person may make many Wills in their lifetime. The last Will of the person before death is the valid one.
This is a document issued by the Register of Wills authorizing a particular person(s) to act as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. If the person died with a will, the document is refereed to as Letters of Testamentary. If the person died without a will, the document is called Letters of Administration.
No. However, due to the complexity of the process, it is strongly recommended that an attorney be engaged. This office provides the forms but cannot offer any direction or legal advise as to the preparation.
The order of appointment is very detailed and specific. Usually, the spouse is the first one to qualify. If there is no spouse, then the children can apply to be appointed. These situations often require the advise of an attorney.
No. This office functions only as an agent for the filing of the Inheritance Tax Return and the payment of the Inheritance Tax. This means that we accept the return and payment and send them to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The staff is not trained to give direction or advice concerning the correct completion of the return or calculation of the tax. If you have further questions that are not answered in the Tax Return instruction booklet, you should contact an attorney or an accountant for assistance. The Inheritance Tax Booklet with instructions is provided by this office at the time that the Estate is opened.
In almost every case when a person dies having personal property or real estate, an estate should be administered.
If you wish to execute or make a living will:
The Living Will/Advance Directive does not get filed with the Register of Wills Office. The form does not need to be, but should be notarized. You should give a copy to your family and your doctor, your attorney or clergy person if you desire. Keep a copy in a secure place which is accessible to others if you become unable to act on your own behalf.
No. Life insurance proceeds are exempt from the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax provided that the decedent died after December 13, 1982.
It depends. Transfers made within one year of the death of the decedent, if made without valuable and adequate consideration in money or monies worth at the time of the transfer, is taxable to the extent that the transfer exceeds $3,000.00 per transferee during any calendar year. Property that was transferred with the decedent retaining a life interest in same is also taxable.
The rate of tax for transfers to a surviving spouse is dependent on the statute in effect as of the decedent’s date of death.
No. Pennsylvania does not recognize convenience accounts. If an individual adds a name to an account and should the person added to the account pre-decease, the surviving person whose name remains on the account would be required to pay Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax on a portion of the account.
An executor or administrator must obtain the necessary legal documents to enable him to act for the estate. These documents, called either LETTERS TESTAMENTARY (for an executor) or LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION (for an administrator), are obtained through the Register of Wills in the county in which the DECEDENT (the deceased person) lived at the time of death.
The duties of the personal representative include:
As a practical matter, it is very difficult for a non-lawyer to correctly follow the required procedures in administering an estate without the assistance of an attorney. The personal representative selects the attorney for the estate. If there is a will, it is a courtesy to the deceased to use the attorney who prepared the will. Otherwise, the executor or administrator may use an attorney who is known or who has been recommended. An attorney can also be located through a lawyer referral service, which will be listed in the yellow pages under the heading of "Attorneys," "Lawyers," "Attorney Referral Service," or "Lawyer Referral Service."
In addition to court costs, fees (usually based on a percentage of the gross value of the estate) are paid to the attorney and to the personal representative. These fees are paid out of the assets of the estate. Fee arrangements should be discussed during the first visit with the attorney who will be involved in the administration of the estate.