Frequently Asked Questions

1.What does the Register of Wills Office do?

This office registers the wills of New Castle County residents after they have passed. We give executors or administrators the authority to collect assets, pay creditors, and distribute assets (the "estate"). We also provide safekeeping for wills, of living people, and assist in genealogy, and title searches.


2.How do I see the will of someone who died in Kent or Sussex County?

You should contact the Register of Wills Office in the county in which the person who died, domiciled at their time of death. To reach the New Castle County Register of Wills call 302-395-5555 or to reach the Sussex County Register of Wills call 302-855-7875.


3. What is the format of your records?

It varies. Older estates are stored on microfiche or microfilm depending on the age. The more recent estates are kept as paper files. We hope to have documents available online in the near future.


4. How can I get a Power of Attorney?

You should seek professional advice to get a power of attorney. The Register of Wills Office does not draw up wills, powers of attorney, living wills, or other legal documents. Please note that a power of attorney and related documents become void after death.


5. A person who died owed me money. How do I file a claim against the estate?

Complete a Statement of Claim along with supporting documentation and the filing flat fee of $20. Please note that claims must be filed within 8 months from the date of death.


6. How far back do your estate records go?

Our records date back to the 1600s.


7. Do you have estate records for the entire state?

No. We only have records for people who were domiciled in Kent County at the time of their death.


8. How can I get a copy of a death certificate?

The Register of Wills Office does not supply death certificates. The Office of Vital Statistics provides information on death certificates and can be reached at 302-744-4549.


9. Who do I contact regarding estate or inheritance taxes?

Please contact the Delaware Division of Revenue at 302-577-8170 for information about estate and inheritance taxes.


10. How do I get copies of wills, etc. from the Register of Wills Office?

Copies of wills and other estate documents can be ordered through our office. There is a fee for this depending on the type of copy and number of pages (Please see our fee schedule). Copies can be obtained by sending a written request with payment to:


Kent County Register of Wills

Kent County Levy Court

555 S. Bay Rd.

Dover, DE 19901

Note: Once a will is filed for a decedent, it becomes public record. Therefore, anyone can get copies or review files in our office.


11. Who distributes my inheritance?

The personal representative distributes the assets of an estate. This person is either named in the will (executor) or else it is the next of kin or an appointee of the Register of Wills Office, determined by Delaware law (administrator). Felons and incompetents cannot serve as personal representatives. In addition, both executors and administrators can decline to serve or renounce if they so choose. Note: sometimes, more than one person is named or appointed; they are co-executors or co-administrators.


12. If someone is named as executor in the will, does that person still need to go to the Register of Wills Office?

Yes. Even though someone is named as the executor, they cannot conduct business unless provided with the appropriate documents from the Register of Wills Office.


13. Who is in charge of submitting the necessary paperwork to begin the probate process?

The personal representative (also known as the executor or administrator).

14. How does the personal representative get the authority to conduct business?

A potential executor or administrator needs to open an estate. To do this, go to the Register of Wills Office for the county in which the person who died was domiciled. If this is Kent County, you can contact us at 302-744-2327 to set up an appointment and find out what documents are needed.


15. What if the personal representative (executor) does not wish to serve?

The personal representative can renounce his or her duties in writing and the named alternative or the next of kin according to Delaware law will then act as the personal representative.


16. What if the named personal representative wishes to be removed after being appointed?

The personal representative can renounce his or her duties in writing and the named alternative or the next of kin according to Delaware law will then act as the personal representative.


17. What are the duties of a personal representative?

The responsibilities of a personal representative include filing a certified copy of the death certificate, paying the costs to open the estate (varies depending on value of solely held personal property), post bond if necessary, publish legal notice of the filing of the petition in a local newspaper to give creditors notice, collect, manage, and protect all probate assets, file an inventory of the assets within 90 days of opening the estate, pay the debts of the decedent, file an accounting with the Register of Wills Office within one year of opening the estate, and close the estate at the Register of Wills Office (there are also closing fees). For more information, please refer our brochure(PDF, 271KB) , your will and the Delaware Probate Code or call us at 302-744-2327.


18. What if I am not satisfied with the way the personal representative is performing his or her duties?

You should seek professional advice because the court may need to be involved.


19. How does being a felon effect my ability to be a personal representative?

Anyone convicted of a felony could not take an oath and therefore could not be appointed a personal representative. You may seek legal advice if you have further questions.


20. When is it necessary to probate an estate?

If the person who died had more than $30,000 (if the date of death is after 5/1/2004) in personal property in his/her name alone or if the person who died had real estate in his/her name alone, it is then necessary to probate the estate.


21. What is the procedure to probate an estate with a will?

Please find our brochure here(PDF, 271KB) .

22. How does a deed for inherited real estate get transferred?

The register of wills does not prepare or record deeds. You should contact your lawyer or contact the Recorder of Deeds Office for the county in which the land is located. If it is New Castle County, the Recorder of Deeds Office can be reached at 302-744-2314.

Notice!(PDF, 204KB)

23. What if the only property was jointly owned?

If a decedent's real and/or personal property are owned jointly with someone other than a spouse, the surviving joint tenant should file an inventory with the Register of Wills Office and an inheritance tax return with the State Division of Revenue. If the real and personal property are joined with a spouse, the spouse may file an affidavit with the Register of Wills Office. The spouse need not file an inheritance tax return.


24. What if the only asset was a motor vehicle?

If a decedent does not have solely owned real estate and has less than $30,000 in solely owned personal property, then the closest next of kin (spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, grandchildren, grandparents, and funeral directors, in that order) may obtain possession of that personal property by executing a Small Estate Affidavit at the Register of Wills Office 30 days after the date of death.


25. What is a small estate affidavit and how can I get one?

A Small Estate Affidavit allows you to gain access to the decedent's assets without going through the entire probate process. The named executor in the original, valid, self-proven will, or if there is no will, the closest next of kin may obtain a Small Estate Affidavit from our office 30 days after the date of death if the person who died did not solely own Delaware real estate and did not own more than $30,000 in assets (if the date of death was after 5/1/2004).


26. Where should I keep my will?

This is your decision, but we recommend that the original is kept in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box or an attorney's office. It is not a good idea to keep your will under your bed. Make sure to give your personal representative a copy of the will or instructions as to where it is kept.


27. Can I leave instructions about my funeral?

Yes. It is a good idea to prepare a Letter of Last Instruction so your heirs or executor(s) can locate your will and other important documents. This letter may explain where you keep your will, the names and addresses of people you would like to be notified of your death, and where to find documents such as titles, deeds, stocks, bonds, insurance policies, etc. It may also explain how to contact your employer in order to receive death benefits, and where your safe deposit key can be found. This letter may also include instructions for your funeral and burial. A law passed in 2004, gives you more control of funeral and burial arrangements than in the past. Be sure to speak with a licensed funeral director to get a full explanation.


28. What happens to your will after you die?

Your will is filed at the Register of Wills Office in the county in which you were domiciled at the time of your death. It is the legal duty of any person in possession of any document that might be a will to deliver it to the register of wills within 10 days after receiving notice of your death. The original will, not a copy, must be filed with our office.


29. What happens if I die without a will?

If you die without a will or your will is rejected, your estate is considered to be intestate. Intestate estates are divided among the decedent's spouse and other heirs according to Delaware's laws.


30. If the decedent didn't have any assets does the will still have to be filed?

Yes, the decedent's will must be filed in the county in which the decedent was domiciled at the time of death.


31. Should I have a will?

There are many good reasons to have a will. You may wish to leave your estate to persons who might not otherwise receive any property or the amounts you desire, under the laws that control what happens when someone dies without a will. A will may also avoid family squabbles. Wills are also used to protect your minor children by naming possible guardians for them. Properly drawn wills make estate planning easier when the goal may be avoiding death taxes.


32. Can the Register of Wills Office prepare my will for me?

No. The Register of Wills Office cannot give legal advice. The Register of Wills Office does not draft wills. Whenever possible, a lawyer should draft your will to avoid problems which may either make the will useless or cause problems in interpreting its terms.

Probate Attorney List(PDF, 192KB)

 

33. What makes a will valid?

The maker must be at least 18 years of age and of disposing mind and memory. The will must be in writing. The will must be signed by the maker or signed by a person writing the maker's name in his or her presence and at the maker's direction. The will must be witnessed by two or more credible witnesses who write their names in the presence of the maker. It is also a good idea to have all signatures notarized. In Delaware, a beneficiary to the will may be a witness although in some states this is not allowed.


34. Is a will made in another state valid in Delaware?

A valid will from another state is also valid in Delaware if it complies with Delaware law or complies with the law in the state where it was executed, or it complies with the law, where, at the time of death, the maker is a legal resident or a national (foreign citizen).


35. Are holographic wills (written entirely in the testator's handwriting) legal in Delaware?

They are only valid if other legal requirements are met, including:

  1. The maker must be 18 and of sound mind
  2. The will must be in writing and signed by the maker or a person writing the maker's name in his or her presence and at the maker's direction
  3. The will must be witnessed by two or more credible witnesses who write their names in the presence of the maker.


36. What makes a will proven?

A will is proven when its witnesses swear to its validity. It is self-proved when the signatures appearing on the will were previously notarized. If a will is not proven, it is rejected and has no force or effect.


37. Can I change my will?

Yes. An entire will can be revoked at any time by destroying the original document, making a new will revoking the previous will, or by written direction signed by the maker and witnessed by at least two witnesses. You can also change parts of a will by making a codicil. This is a document that must be executed with the same formalities as the original will, and it may explain, modify, add to, subtract from, qualify, alter, restrain, or revoke provisions in a will.

In addition, some changes to your will may occur due to events in your life. For example, a divorce removes a former spouse from any role as executor and removes any right to inherit. Also, children who are not provided for in a will who were born after the will was executed can claim their share of the estate as though the decedent died without a will.