Election 2020: Kent County register of wills

Harold Brode

Name: Harold Brode

Party: Democrat

Age: 73

Family: Widowed; three sons (Derrick and wife, Elizabeth; Kenny and wife, Tammi; and Robbie and wife, Anna); eight grandchildren

Residence: Harrington

Occupation: Investigator at Schmittinger and Rodriguez law firm and Kent County register of wills

John P. Kelly III

Name: John P. Kelly III

Party: Republican

Age: 62

Family: Wife, Laura; children, J.P. and Kathryn; grandchildren, Lilliana and Nicolai

Residence: Dover

Occupation: Retired certified public accountant; partner of Enviro-Master Services of Delaware with brother, Michael

Why are you running for this seat?
HB:
Throughout my career, I have always been involved in positions to help people. I see my role as Kent County register of wills to help people through one of the most difficult times in their lives. Our office is staffed by caring, thoughtful individuals, who work with families during this difficult period in hopes that the professionalism exhibited makes their day a little bit easier. I would like to see through the important work being done to get all documents on file in our office scanned into one database. This update will ensure that the public and law offices are able to more easily access these documents. I would like to continue to serve in this important role and help the people of Kent County in executing their final wishes.
JK: My mother, Cecilia, passed away 18 months ago. I am the eldest of her four children. My sister and I were designated executors. It was my duty to prepare the register of wills documents. Historically, our certified public accountant office prepared ROW documents for clients. Therefore, I had a working knowledge of the procedure. Nevertheless, I was dismayed to find the instructions missing key elements necessary to correctly and economically complete those documents. In addition, I was shocked to find the Kent County ROW office not to be paperless. The only county ROW office in Delaware without a paperless system is Kent County. I want to modernize the office, simplify the process and educate our clients (our constituents).

What do you see as the major issues in this election?
HB:
As the office of the register of wills is in place to ensure that wills and documents relating to an individual’s estate plans are in place, we are not affected, in many cases, by the issues of the day. I look forward to continuing to work with the Kent County Levy Court on continuing the digitization project of our office.
JK: The major issue is modernization of the office. I quote from the register of wills budget summary for each of the fiscal years 2011 through 2021: “Provide the public with easier access and improve service by providing imaging” and “Convert from paper to electronic media.” Eleven years is a long time to plan these improvements without implementing them. In fiscal year 2009, $60,000 was set aside in the ROW capital budget to upgrade the office, and it remained, until, in fiscal year 2014, $20,000 was added, and the balance remained at $80,000 in both fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015. In fiscal year 2016, the funds went to zero. There is no indication what it was spent on. Obviously, it wasn’t spent on upgrading the electronic systems in the ROW office. Why hasn’t this happened? What is holding the office back from simple improvements? I want to ask my opponent these questions and more. However, he has declined the invitation to debate me.

What is the biggest problem facing the county and how would you solve it?
HB:
While I would not call it a problem, our biggest challenge in the register of wills office is to continue to work with Kent County Levy Court on digitizing the tens of thousands of files stored in our office. This has been an ongoing project over the past four years but an expensive one to ensure that it is done correctly. I appreciate the strong working relationship with the Kent County Levy Court and look forward to making continued advancements and, hopefully, completing this project in the next two years.
JK: We are entering an era of new normal. COVID-19 will forever change the way we do many of the things we previously took for granted. This includes how many businesses, professionals and government offices will operate. With regard to the register of wills office, it involves adopting a process that limits the spread of this extremely infectious virus. Since the office is behind in technology (paperless system, remote filing, remote research) that has been available for years, catching up is a challenge. Equally concerning is the challenge of accomplishing this economically. Utilizing a paperless system would reduce interaction, reduce the threat of infection and keep both the public and staff healthy.

Why is the office of register of wills important? Should it be an appointed office?
HB:
The register of wills office is in place to ensure that all wills and documents relating to an individual’s estate plans are in place. The office exists to ensure that all estates are in compliance with all relevant laws and statutes. This function is very important to ensure that an individual’s final wishes are carried out. I believe the register of wills office should remain an elected office decided by the vote of the people in the general election.
JK: It is important right now because of the situation we are all dealing with in COVID-19. I believe I can take the office to the technological level needed to provide superior service, while keeping everyone involved safer. Yes, I believe that the register should be an appointed office.

Do you have any additional thoughts you wish to share?
HB:
Did not answer.
JK: There is misinformation being spread about introducing 21st-century technology to the register of wills office. An electronic wills process would not be in violation of state laws that require signed and original documents (courts.delaware.gov/aoc/docket/fall2013/efiling.aspx). The paperless upgrade will not result in an increase in taxes and won’t cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The register of wills office generates enough in fees to cover the upgrade expenses over a series of years. There are no time constraints that are set by insurance companies, state government, federal government or probate laws that would complicate implementation of a paperless system.