You've been told to get a short certificate...what does that mean?

In this blog, we demystify the process of obtaining a "Short Certificate" in Pennsylvania. When a loved one passes away with assets in their name, navigating the probate process is crucial. We guide you through the steps of petitioning the Register of Wills, clarifying common confusions, and managing estate responsibilities.



1/19/20242 min read

person in orange long sleeve shirt writing on white paper
person in orange long sleeve shirt writing on white paper

Certainly, it's a common scenario that individuals, upon the death of a loved one, are advised by bankers or financial advisors to obtain a "Short Certificate" from the courthouse but are not provided with detailed information about the process. This lack of information can lead to confusion about what exactly needs to be done. Here's a more detailed explanation to clarify this situation:

1. Understanding the "Short Certificate": A Short Certificate is a legal document issued by the Register of Wills that certifies the appointment of an executor (if there is a will) or an administrator (if there is no will) of an estate. This certificate is necessary to access and manage the deceased's assets, such as bank accounts, that were solely in their name.

2. Visiting the Courthouse: The term "at the courthouse" refers to the county courthouse where the Register of Wills office is located. This is typically in the county where the deceased lived at the time of their death.

3. Preparation Before Going to the Courthouse: Before visiting the courthouse, the individual seeking to be appointed as the executor or administrator should gather necessary documents, including the original will (if one exists), the death certificate, and a list of the deceased’s assets.

4. Filing a Petition at the Register of Wills: The individual must file a petition with the Register of Wills for the Grant of Letters Testamentary (if there is a will) or Letters of Administration (if there is no will). This petition formally requests the opening of probate and the appointment of the executor or administrator.

5. Issuance of the Short Certificate: Once the petition is approved, the Register of Wills issues the Short Certificate. This document provides the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.

6. Using the Short Certificate: With the Short Certificate in hand, the executor or administrator can then approach banks, financial institutions, and other entities to manage, transfer, or close accounts of the deceased.

7. Additional Legal Steps: Obtaining the Short Certificate is just the beginning of the probate process. The executor or administrator must also carry out other duties, including notifying beneficiaries, paying debts and taxes, and eventually distributing the estate's assets.

8. Seeking Legal Assistance: Due to the complexity of the probate process, many individuals find it helpful to consult with an attorney who specializes in estate law in Pennsylvania. An attorney can provide guidance on the necessary steps, help prepare and file documents, and ensure compliance with all legal requirements.

This added information should help clarify the initial steps individuals need to take when they are advised to obtain a Short Certificate, especially in the context of managing a deceased person's estate in Pennsylvania. Be sure to contact the attorneys at the Ament Law Group today to help you with the probate process.