Section 921 of the PEF Code provides that all
probated wills shall be indexed and recorded by the Register, and
shall remain in his office, except for the period required to be
in the custody of a higher court.
All estate files, whether involving a Will or
an intestacy, are assigned docket numbers, the index for which is
located at Room 187, City Hall. For estates raised in 1980 or later,
the index is computerized. A docket clerk will research the estate
by the decedent's last name and provide the docket number. Both
the index books and the computer index are updated daily.
It is possible to make a telephone inquiry to
ascertain whether an estate has been raised for decedents dying
in 1980 and after and to obtain the docket number by calling 215-686-6261
For estates raised prior to 1980, the docket
number can only be obtained by manually checking the index books
kept in Room 187, by locating the year of death in the appropriate
range of years. The book must be searched for the letter of the
decedent's last name, and then with the first letter of the decedent's
first name. The last name "Smith" and the first names
"Joseph" and "John" have their own listings.
These books can be used to locate a Will or administration from
1682 to the present.
Since 1986, a single indexing system for all
estates has been used. For searches prior to 1986, separate numbering
systems were utilized for Wills and administrations, resulting in
parallel numbering. Thus, both Will No. 1014 of 1983 and Administration
No. 1014 of 1983 are in use for separate estates.
After the docket number is obtained, the actual
file can be reviewed in Room 180, City Hall if the estate was opened
within the past five years.
Files more than five years old are transferred
to the City Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia. The hours
are subject to change but are now 8:30 to 4:30. At the Archives,
the file will be available for examination in the common reading
room. Copiers are available as well as readers and printers for
those files on microfilm.
Older files may be ordered from the Archives
and reviewed in City Hall if an advance request is made. Usually,
one day's notice is adequate. Generally, there is no charge for
this service if the attorney is requesting one file; however, for
a number of files to be transferred to City Hall, there is a charge.
The initial probate documents from 1692 to 1992
are also copied on microfiche and may be examined in the Research
Department, Room 185, City Hall. Later filings, such as inventories
and correspondence to the Register of Wills, are copied on microfilm,
but neither inheritance tax returns nor the federal estate tax returns
required to be filed with the state are copied on microfilm.