Document Access and Management Vastly Improved for Register Of Wills

OnBase Register of Wills Case Study

Allegheny County Register of Wills Uses OnBase to Reduce Storage Needs and Improve Document Access

The Challenge

Prior to 1999, the Register of Wills maintained its documents in enormous books and on microfilm, both with obvious disadvantages. “We were maximized on the amount of space dedicated to paper and book storage. With our volume, our shelves were being filled with paper,” said solicitor Timothy Finnerty.

In addition to space restrictions, the office (like all of Allegheny County) faced budgetary restrictions, and accessing paper and microfilm files was labor intensive. The Court of Common Pleas, for example, often has to access documents, and because they are located in a separate building, employees spent much time retrieving and delivering documents between buildings. Likewise, many documents in the Register of Wills Office need to be accessible by the general public. Providing easy access to the public documents was also a concern.

The staff in the Register of Wills Office also has to meet the needs and rights of the public in accessing these documents. Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law, Open Record Law, and Right to Know Act set forth guidelines about what is and isn’t public knowledge, as well as setting parameters for how quickly information can be obtained. Not only is it impractical to give the public direct access to paper or microfilm records, but also not all of the documents are public, such as adoption records.

Enterprise Content Management Needs

The Register of Wills consulted with KeyMark (formerly IMR) about how technology could help solve these problems. KeyMark had been providing microfilm and recording services to the office for some time. According to Patti Capozoli, Supervisor of Transcribing, “KeyMark showed us how we could simply replace our aging microfilm and copying system with a state-of-the-art scanning and imaging system. We can now scan and index the documents as soon as they are filed and have them available on computers for public access within minutes. The best part is that all of this was possible for actually less than what we were spending for microfilm.”

The Solution

Employees in the Register of Wills office scan about 2,000 incoming documents and 4,000 existing documents each day. To date, close to 2.5 million backfile documents dating back to the mid 1980s have been scanned. All of these documents are stored in the OnBas repository where they can be searched and immediately accessed by employees, judges, and the general public. This direct access has been a tremendous time saver for office staff. All documents are now stored in a main repository where they can be searched and immediately accessed, not only by employees, but also by judges and the public. “We have given access to judges who previously had to call or send people to our office to request documents,” said Eileen Wagner, Register of Wills. “Now, they bring them up right on their computers at their benches. The time savings is tremendous.” The ECM system has inherent security features that prevent unauthorized users access. KeyMark helped the Register of Wills office set up additional safeguards to assure that no private information was breached. The three public access terminals in that area are limited to custom queries that allow only certain types of documents to be searched and retrieved. These terminals print to machines located behind the counter, allowing staff to monitor activity, solely for record storage.

The Results

The KeyMark solution has met the expectations for both conserving storage resources and reducing labor and inconvenience associated with retrieval. Each document filed can be accessed instantaneously and, if the county chooses, these indexes and documents can be made available over the Internet. Judges and other court personnel who have access to the system have also been enthusiastic about the ECM system. “The ability to read the actual document on my computer screen has saved countless hours because we do not have to retrieve the hard copy of the file,” said Administrative Judge Frank Lucchino. “I have also found it quite helpful in my courtroom, where I have access through a computer on my bench, enabling me to review files during our Motions Court.” If an attorney refers to a will, for example, Judge Lucchino can retrieve that document immediately to determine if the argument is consistent with the language in that document.

About Allegheny Register of Wills

The Allegheny County Register of Wills serves more than 1.3 million residents in Allegheny County, PA, a 730-square-mile municipality in southwestern Pennsylvania. From the county seat in Pittsburgh, the Register of Wills is responsible for recording documents involving wills and estates, marriage licenses, Orphans’ Court and adoptions, etc. All totaled, the office processes 45 different legal documents.