You may have noticed legal notices in the newspaper, mixed in with the classified ads, as you turned pages looking for the comics.
If you look closely, you will often see advertisements announcing that the Register of Wills has opened an estate in the name of someone recently deceased, and has appointed an executor to administer the estate.
Why do these ads run, and how is estate advertising done properly?
Pennsylvania law requires the executor to advertise the estate to “request all persons having claims against the estate of the decedent to make known the same to [the executor] or his attorney, and all persons indebted to the decedent to make payment to [the executor] without delay.” (20 Pa. C.S.A. § 3162.)
Advertisement must be made immediately after the estate is opened in a newspaper of general circulation “at or near the place where the decedent resided” and also in the legal periodical designated by the court for publication of such notices. The ad must run once a week for three successive weeks, and must contain the language described in the previous paragraph, along with the name and address of the executor.
The Register of Wills in the county where the estate was opened can help you determine which publications to use. Call the appropriate newspaper and legal periodical for assistance in placing an ad with the required language.
Advertising the estate serves at least two important purposes. First, it allows any potential creditors or claimants one year to makes claims known to the executor. After a year, claims against the estate will usually not be honored, and the executor may distribute the assets of the estate without fear of claims from unknown sources.
Second, advertisement starts the clock ticking on the allowable time for closing the estate. By law, an executor may file an account of the estate administration with the court “after four months from the first complete advertisement” of the estate.
In some cases, there is no probate estate filed with the Register of Wills because all assets of the decedent pass to beneficiaries by means of a revocable trust. The trustee of such a trust may also advertise in the same manner and thereby foreclose claims made more than a year after advertisement. (20 Pa. C.S.A. § 7755.)