Western PA's Premier Estate Administration & Estate Planning Law Firm

What is a Short Certificate and How Do I Get One?

If you’ve recently lost a love one and are being told by their bank or other financial institutions that you’ll need to get a short certificate before they can talk to you about the accounts, what does this mean?  Well, the simple answer is that it means someone has to be appointed by the court as the administrator or executor of the estate.  What it really means is that you’re going to have to engage in the probate estate administration process.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had clients who have been told by the bank or other financial institution, “oh, just go to the local Register of Wills Office and pick up a short certificate.”  If only it were that simple.  Before you can get this magical document that will suddenly allow you to close the decedent’s accounts and begin the administration process, you’ll need to determine a few things.

Did the decedent have a Will?  If so, who was named as the executor?  Is the Will self-proving (meaning properly executed, witnessed and notarized)?  If there is no Will, you’ll need to determine who the decedent’s closest living next of kin are and who is best able to serve and be appointed as the Administrator of the estate.  Regardless of whether there is or isn’t a Will, you’re going to have to have a petition prepared seeking to be appointed as either the executor or administrator.  The form of petition varies from state to state, but in Pennsylvania you’ll ultimately be petitioning for what are known as either Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration.  Once this petition has been prepared, you’ll appear before the local Register of Wills Office in the county where the decedent died and you’ll be sworn in and appointed as either the executor or administrator.  It is only after this has happened that you’ll be in position to obtain the necessary short certificates. 

Mind you, opening the estate is merely the beginning of the overall estate administration process.  Once the estate has been formally opened and the short certificates obtained, you are still going to be responsible for seeing the estate through to conclusion.  This means the preparation and filing of a number of estate related documents, inheritance and income tax returns and, finally, either a formal accounting of your administration or a family settlement agreement between the heirs.  Starting to sound like it might be a bit more difficult than merely appearing at the Register’s Office and picking up a short certificate?  That’s because it is.  If you recently lost a loved one and are about to enter into the probate process, do yourself a big favor and seek out the advice and assistance of an experienced estate attorney from the beginning.

American Wills & Estates is a locally founded, owned and operated law firm that has been guiding clients throughout Western Pennsylvania through the probate estate administration process with competency, compassion and care for over 25 years.  We offer most of our estate administration services on an affordable flat fee basis and provide all of our potential clients with a comprehensive free initial consultation.  Give us a call today at (412) 381-7370 to schedule your free legal consultation or visit us online at http://www.americanwillsandestates.com  You’ll be glad you did.


Pittsburgh Probate Estate Administration and Estate Planning Lawyers