What Constitutes a Legal Will in Pennsylvania?

By Catherine McNally

Valid Pennsylvania wills must meet specific age, mental state and signature requirements. Certain circumstances also require witnesses. If a will does not meet these requirements, Pennsylvania may nevertheless recognize its legality in certain situations if it is valid under another jurisdiction's laws.

Valid Pennsylvania wills must meet specific age, mental state and signature requirements. Certain circumstances also require witnesses. If a will does not meet these requirements, Pennsylvania may nevertheless recognize its legality in certain situations if it is valid under another jurisdiction's laws.

Age and Mental State Requirements

To enter into a binding will in Pennsylvania, an individual must be at least 18 years old. The person must also be of “sound mind.”

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Writing Requirement

Pennsylvania law requires that wills be in writing. Handwritten wills are valid if witnesses can verify the signature at probate.

Signature Requirements

In Pennsylvania, the will's maker must sign the will. Any words that follow the signature do not invalidate any writing that comes before it. If the will maker cannot write a proper signature for any reason, a mark placed before or after the maker's name is valid if two individuals witness the making of the mark and sign the will in the will maker's presence. If the will maker cannot make a signature or mark, his name must be placed on the will at his direction and in his presence. The will maker must declare that it is his will in front of two witnesses. These witnesses must then sign their names to the document in the will maker's presence.

Witness Requirements

Pennsylvania does not require the presence of witnesses at the time of execution if a will has an actual signature. The law requires that two witnesses authenticate the will maker's signature at the time of probate at the Register of Wills’ office.

Validity When Will Execution or Death Occurs Out of State

Even if a will does not meet one of the aforementioned requirements, it may still be valid in two circumstances. If an individual's will was executed out of state, the law of the jurisdiction where the individual resided at the time of execution can apply to determine validity. In addition, if an individual dies out of state, the law of the individual's place of domicile at the time of death can decide the will's legality.

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Are Notarized Wills Legal?

References

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The Amount of Time Allowed to Probate a Will in Pennsylvania

State laws vary with regard to probate. Probate is a judicial process where a special court oversees the administration of a decedent’s estate. Typically, when a person, or testator, creates a will, the testator appoints a personal representative, or executor, in the will to administer the testator’s estate upon death. Once the testator dies, the executor must file the will for probate. In Pennsylvania, the executor may probate the will at any time after the testator’s death.

About Pennsylvania's Living Will Legislation

Pennsylvania has recognized living wills since 1992. A living will is not the same as a last will and testament, which takes effect after the death of the testator, or the person who makes the will. In most circumstances, a living will goes into effect immediately. It spells out the maker’s wishes regarding the use of extraordinary measures to keep him alive if he becomes terminally ill or comatose and cannot communicate his decisions to medical staff.

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