A will allows you to direct what happens after your death, especially how your property will be distributed. You can even nominate a guardian for your children or set up a trust in your will. There are several ways to prepare a will in Pennsylvania, including completing a template form or using will-making software. You can also hire an attorney or use an online legal documentation service to prepare a will for you that meets Pennsylvania’s legal requirements.
Requirements to Make a Will
To make a will in Pennsylvania, you must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. If, for example, you become mentally incapacitated through a disease like dementia, you will not be able to make a valid will unless you regain your mental faculties, so you may want to make a will now instead of waiting until you think you need one. As the testator, you must sign your will in front of two competent witnesses. If you cannot physically sign your will, you can direct someone else to sign it on your behalf before two witnesses. Pennsylvania allows you to make your will self-proving. This means that your witnesses likely will not have to appear in court after your death to testify that you met the age and mental capacity requirements at the time you signed your will and that they saw you sign it. Instead, they must sign an affidavit, or sworn statement, in the format prescribed by Pennsylvania law. The affidavit states that the witnesses saw you sign the will, you signed it voluntarily and you were at least 18, of sound mind and not under pressure to sign. The affidavit must be notarized or signed by an attorney.
Pennsylvania allows holographic wills -- wills that are written completely in the testator’s own handwriting. This may initially seem easier than creating a typewritten will, but it creates a greater chance of the court deciding the will is not valid. After your death, your loved ones must find two witnesses who can identify your signature on the holographic will and testify that it is authentic. If no one can provide sufficient proof that the signature is yours, the Registrar of Wills may consider the will invalid, and your estate will be distributed as if you had no will under Pennsylvania's intestacy laws. It is usually best to use a holographic will only in emergency situations.
Terms of the Will
Along with a list of beneficiaries, your will should name a personal representative, or executor, for your estate. Once this person’s appointment is approved and your will is declared valid through the probate process, your executor has authority to manage your estate and distribute assets to the beneficiaries you named. You can list specific items to be given to beneficiaries or you can divide your estate into shares. For example, your will can direct that your estate be divided evenly among your three children. It can also nominate a guardian for your minor children, make provisions for your pets and describe your wishes for funeral arrangements. If you plan to disinherit someone under the terms of your will, it is generally wise to specifically state you are disinheriting that person and give a reason for that decision. Otherwise, the disinherited heir could argue you simply forgot to list him or that you were not of sound mind when you wrote the will.
Changing Your Will
You can revoke your will by destroying the original or by making a new will. You can also change portions of your will without revoking the entire document by creating a separate document called a codicil. In some states, marriage revokes wills made before the marriage, but not in Pennsylvania. As a result, your spouse is still entitled to a share of your estate under state law, since her omission from the will was because it was drafted before your marriage. Similarly, children born or adopted by you after you make your will are automatically entitled to a share of your estate. However, if you divorce after you make a will, Pennsylvania law modifies the terms of the will to delete any portions that give a share to your former spouse.