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Up Close and Personal: Honorable Tracey Gordon Event Recap

Nov 10, 2021 12:00PM ● By Nana Ama Addo
photo of Honorable Tracey Gordon, and photo of host Jennifer Smith

On October 22nd, 2021 at 10 am EST, FunTimes Magazine hosted the virtual “Up Close and Personal” series with Honorable Tracey Gordon, the Philadelphia Register of Wills. Honorable Tracey Gordon is a Temple University graduate who began doing community service as a high school student. She has served the SouthWest Philadelphia community for over 20 years, starting in local positions like Block Captain and CommitteeWoman, and moving to citywide activism. As the current Philadelphia Register of Wills, Honorable Gordon is the first Black female to hold this position. Through her work with the City of Philadelphia, she implements comprehensive probate form, promotes diversity in policy, and improves the title crisis. 

She says “We have a serious tangled title crisis here in Philadelphia. I have solutions.” A tangled title, which occurs when a home is in the name of a deceased person, is all too common in many communities, including the city of Philadelphia. 

Honorable Gordon gives an example: “If you are living in your grandmother's house and she passes away, but she doesn't have a will and the family is still living in the home, that home is a tangled title. Verbal wills are not valid in Pennsylvania. If a family member says ‘This is your house when I die’ that does not mean anything in the State of Pennsylvania.”

When describing the importance of untangling a title, Honorable Gordon says: “With a tangled title, you can't sell the property, have homeowners insurance, get home equity loans, get loans for child college, or negotiate for the mortgage company. You have to go through a citation hearing.”

“My job is to preside over the transfer of generational wealth”, says Honorable Gordon. The Register of Wills usually comes into play as soon as there is a death in the family. Honorable Gordon says “Right after you have a will, or you think it's an heir property, or you think you have a right to the property, my office is the first office to visit so we can help you transfer the property given to you into your name.”

When describing the process, Honorable Gordon says: “The transfer of wealth is taxed. After you probate or raise the estate, we would give you a short certificate for you to go to the bank, mortgage company, etc, to change all the bills in your name, and also for you to go to the recorder of deeds so you can get the name transferred to your names. This is how you settle an estate.”

“We are losing almost $1b in dead capital because we have tangled titles unique to particular areas,” says Honorable Gordon. She notes that some are in poor and working-class areas. 

Honorable Gordon talks about the origins, and generational and societal importance of having processes for transferring wealth: “The estate has been established for over 400 years. The forefathers knew how to access wealth through land, businesses, and more recently stocks/bonds, but there is also a rule on how you transfer when you die. Death is the end of life for you but someone must still take care of the business. You can make a will, a self-proving affidavit involved. You have the right as a citizen of PA to say where your assets should go, or who you want to take care of your sick child or your sick parent.”

When describing her role at the Register of Wills and why people should be proactive about getting wills, Honorable Gordon says “I sign executive privileges, like issuing short certificates. We are protecting generational wealth. Many of us are superstitious. You make a will when you get an asset. Sometimes accidents happen. You want to preserve and help your children strive and thrive. ” A short certificate, Honorable Gordon says, is needed in case one needs to withdraw more than $10,000 to get from the account of a deceased parent.

Honorable Gordon describes a “bulletproof will” as one that preferably has a self-proving affidavit. She says people should make sure they tell someone where their will is, and to keep it in a fire and waterproof safety deposit with a lock on it.

Sharon Wilson, Esq., an attorney with over 20 years of experience who works with the Philadelphia Register of Wills, says: “If you are serious about doing a document that will protect your loved ones and your assets, a self-proving affidavit means that your will is witnessed by 2 different people and a notary has verified the signature. Otherwise, if a person dies, you have to find those 2 people or explain where they are. The latter can be a burden on the people that you leave behind. 

In describing the importance of seeking legal guidance when preparing a will, Wilson, Esq. says: “I have never seen a will someone has written by themselves that was written correctly. A good estate attorney writes 200+ wills. There are things I do repetitively that I don't forget that you might forget. Some forget to add executors or sign at the wrong place. At the very least, have your will reviewed by an attorney. If you do a bad job on your will, the law does not allow it to be attempted to be figured out by attorneys. The register looks at the will and says they can't accept it.”

Her advocacy has led to grants, initiatives, and studies from institutions like the Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of Pennsylvania. This year, she launched the Probate Deferment Initiative (PDI) because the legal community was having problems with excessive fees. This program helps to defer fees unless people sell the property. PDI operates in partnership with the recorder of deeds, and with organizations like Christian Legal Clinic. 

Honorable Gordon reminds audiences of the benefits of homeownership, including equity, and resources like the Transformation Fund. It is important for families to untangle titles so they can access these life-changing resources. Honorable Gordon’s advocacy has also led to studies from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of Pennsylvania. 

Connect with PDI on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Tik Tok. using the name @PHROW or hashtag #PHLROW. Tune in to PDI’s web shows every Thursday from 6-7 pm on Facebook, where the Philadelphia Register of Wills brings in people from all aspects of protection of generational wealth. 

Contact Honorable Gordon at 215-686-6250 for will related inquiries. 

 Nana Ama Addo is a writer, multimedia strategist, film director, and storytelling artist. She graduated with a BA in Africana Studies from the College of Wooster, and has studied at the University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Nana Ama tells stories of entrepreneurship and Ghana repatriation at her brand, Asiedua’s Imprint ( ).

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