Crawford County, Pennsylvania

Court Records

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     The probating of a decedent's estate generally begins with an application to the Register of Wills for the appointment of one or more personal representatives.  The representative of the estate is called an executor (or executrix, if a woman) where the decedent's will directs him (or her) to act in that capacity.  If the decedent did not leave a valid will, i.e., died intestate, the personal representative is called the administrator (administratrix).  An administrator cum testamento annexa (with will annexed, abbreviated "c.t.a") is a personal representative of the estate of a decedent whose will named someone else, or no one, to serve as executor.  The Register issues letters testamentary ("L.T.") to executors, and letters of administration ("L.A.") to administrators.

     State law determines who may be appointed as personal representative.  In the nineteenth century, the decedent's survivors were to be chosen in the following order (excluding minors and the mentally incompetent):

          1)  the executor or executors designated in the will, if any;
          2 ) the widower, if the decedent was a married woman;
          3)  those bequeathed the residue of the decedent's estate, in an administration c.t.a.;
          4)  the widow, if any, and/or those relatives entitled to the decedent's personal estate
(after payment of debts and administration expenses) under state intestacy laws;
          5)  one or more of the principal creditors of the decedent applying for the position; or
          6)  other fit persons, at the Register's discretion.

When categories 3) or 4) included more than one eligible person, the Register was to judge which one or more would "best administer the estate, preferring always ... those ... in the nearest degree of consanguinity with the decedent, and also preferring males to females." (1831-32 Pa. Laws 135, 140-41; for the current version, see 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Anot. § 3155).

     A person entitled to act as the personal representative may choose not to serve.  A signed writing renouncing the right to administer the estate of a decedent is called a renunciation, also known as relinquishment, declination, or approbation.  Following, for example, is the renunciation filed by E. J. Acuff's widow:  "           I hereby waive the right of administration upon the estate of my deceased husband E. J. Acuff, and request letters of administration to issue to Amos Carlile and Frank L Wallace Oct 23d 1865 [signed] Harriet B. Acuff."  Messrs. Carlile and Wallace were appointed administrators in accordance with Mrs. Acuff's wishes (Crawford Co. Register's Docket 2:616).

     The Register could not appoint a nominee of the person renouncing in preference to others having the right to administer the estate, according to an 1851 decision of the state Supreme Court (McClellan's Appeal, 16 Pa. 110).  This holding was doubtless ignored by many Registers, and finally reversed in a statutory revision (1949 Pa. Laws 512, 529).  Consequently, one should not conclude from the appointment of Mrs. Acuff's nominees, in the above example, that there were no Acuff children entitled to administer the estate.

     Renunciations can be valuable in proving relationships or survivorship, in revealing the names of next-of-kin, and in providing significant or interesting details.  The Register's docket entry sometimes summarizes the document, but typically indicates (if anything) merely that a "widow's renunciation" or "renunciation of heirs" was filed.  The docket cited above, for instance, mentions that Harriet B. Acuff renounced, but does not disclose her relationship to the decedent.

     Presented here are abstracts of all renunciation papers filed during the nineteenth century which could be located in the Register's Office or in basement storage.  Judging from docket entries, many of the papers are missing, particularly those filed before 1870. The earliest paper discovered dates only from 1823. A few more renunciations might be found on the backs of probated wills, or written in the dockets.

     The decedent's name is shown here in boldface type, preceding the name(s) of the person(s) renouncing. "/s" stands for signed, and signifies that the name, as signed, differs from or does not appear in the body of the renunciation.  "Boilerplate," i.e., repetitious material, has been removed, and dates and place names generally standardized. Information added from the Registers dockets ("Reg. Dk.") or will books ("Wills"), and citations thereto, are printed in italics.  Explanatory and other extraneous material is enclosed inside square brackets.

Copyright 1998 Tom Yoset.