Creditors’ Rights 24
Q: I have a recently deceased customer. There is a large balance still due on his account. How do I approach this situation to increase my chances of collecting on this account?
A: The most important thing to do is to determine if an estate has been opened for your deceased customer. The easiest way to do this is to visit the Orphans’ Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas and provide them with the name of the debtor and the date of death. They can check their records to see if an estate has been opened for the decedent. If you establish that an estate has been opened, you then need to determine from the estate records if there are any assets in the estate. Distributions of estate assets will be made under the statutory priority set forth in the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code. General creditors are low on that priority list, and there are other expenses that must be paid first before creditors can be paid. If there are estate assets, you should file a Notice of Claim with the estate and send a copy of that notice to the executor/administrator of the estate and to the attorney for the estate.
If, on the other hand, an estate has not been opened, the debt is not likely to be collected. This situation, i.e., no estate opened, generally occurs in situations where the debtor had placed his assets in joint names with a spouse or his children, as part of his estate planning process, so that all of the assets passed by operation of law, to the surviving joint holder, upon the death of the debtor, without having to go through the probate process.