What Is a Short Certificate?

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Called "short" because it is usually printed on a half-sheet of paper, a short certificate is issued to the person appointed to handle a decedent's estate. It is a legal document that is often required to gain control of the financial affairs of the decedent after the estate has been probated.

A Short Certificate's Contents

Because of the brevity of the document, the short certificate contains only basic information about the deceased, such as his full name and date of death. It also establishes the person or entity - the will's executor, or the estate's administrator if the decedent died intestate, appointed to handle the estate's fiscal matters. Unlike a will, however, it does not contain specific details about who will inherit specific assets. A person may apply for a short certificate if the deceased did not appoint an executor or if there was no will.

A Short Certificate's Uses

A short certificate needs to be shown to gain control of certain accounts of the deceased. Some brokers or banks request short certificates to document the executor's status before granting authority to act for the estate and to transfer accounts, mortgages or other assets into the representative's name. However, the short certificate does not take the place of a will, and only assets that were solely the responsibility of the deceased may be deemed transferable.

A Short Certificate Isn't Always Required

A short certificate is not necessary with respect to the decedent's joint accounts, jointly-owned property, or co-signed loans. In those cases, only a death certificate is necessary to transfer those accounts to the joint owner's sole control. Also, not all asset transfers require a short certificate even if the asset or loan was solely in the deceased's name, as document requirements vary from company to company.

Short Certificate Application

A person can apply for a short certificate at the county surrogate's office (or the Register of Wills Office in Pennsylvania) for a small fee. These officers are responsible for appointing legal representatives for people who have died either with or without a will. After an application has been received, the officer takes the steps necessary to determine whether the applicant is qualified to handle the financial matters of the deceased. The applicant has no legal rights to the estate until this process is completed.

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