Handwritten wills have a long history in the United States, given that originally all wills were handwritten. However, in the interests of combating fraud and undue influence on testators, the requirements for a will to be declared valid have altered over the years. A handwritten will may be legal in Pennsylvania depending on the individual circumstances.
Under Pennsylvania state code section 2502, wills must be “in writing” and signed by the person making the will, known as the testator. The testator must be 18 years of age and of sound mind, which is generally defined as being capable of understanding what he is doing when he prepared and signed the will. The state of Pennsylvania therefore makes no legal distinction between a handwritten will and a typed will.
A holographic will is a will drafted in the testator's own handwriting but not signed. As the Pennsylvania state code specifically requires that a will have either a signature or a signature by mark, where the testator makes a mark on the will in place of a signature and before two witnesses, a holographic will is not valid in Pennsylvania.
The testator's signature is not always required for a will to be valid in Pennsylvania. Section 2502 of the state code allows for another person to sign the will on the testator's behalf providing the testator declares the will as his will in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the will. Similarly, two witnesses may attest by signing, a mark made on the will by the testator in lieu of a signature.
A standard will signed by the testator does not require witnesses to sign it in Pennsylvania. However, two witnesses are required to appear before the Register of Wills during probate to attest that the signature on the will is valid. Witnesses who have signed the will can instead appear before a notary -- which can take less time.