When a loved one who has a Will passes away, an estate may need to be opened. When must an Estate be opened? If the decedent had assets solely in his or her own name that do not have named beneficiaries, the Will may need to be filed at the Register of Wills office in the county where the decedent resided. It is best to consult with an elder law attorney to determine if it is necessary to open an estate.
When a person dies owning assets solely in his or her name, an estate must usually be "opened" by a personal representative to handle the assets and to settle the decedent's affairs. The estate is opened by filing a Petition for Grant of Letters with a death certificate. This is also known as "Probate." An attorney should prepare the Petition and file it to ensure that the estate is handled in a proper and timely manner. A fee is charged to file this Petition, which fee varies by county. The personal representative, known as the Executor or Executrix, must take an oath before the Letters Testamentary are granted. If the decedent died without a Will, the Register of Wills issues Letters of Administration to the personal representative, who is known as the Administrator or Administratrix. The Letters of Administration are only granted to certain individuals. A fiduciary bond may be required to protect the assets of the estate. To show the personal representative's authority to handle the estate matters, "short certificates" are issued by the Register of Wills for a fee. An estate must be opened to get a short certificate.