Can You Write Your Own Legal Will in Pennsylvania Without a Lawyer?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Can You Write Your Own Legal Will in Pennsylvania Without a Lawyer?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

A valid or legal will ensures the distribution of your property after your death is consistent with your wishes. After paying any valid debts, a court looks to the terms of your document to distribute remaining assets. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is possible to write your own legal will without a lawyer. However, Pennsylvania law has requirements that you must meet whether you use a lawyer or not.

Woman doing paperwork

Requirements of a Legal Will

Any person at least 18 years of age and of sound mind may make a will in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania law requires that this document be in writing and signed by its author, called the testator. Any writing after the signature does not invalidate the document. This is true whether the writing was added prior to or after the signature. Pennsylvania does not require witnesses or notarization for the testator's signature.

If the testator is unable to sign, Pennsylvania allows the testator to make a mark to which his or her name is subscribed. If the testator is using his or her mark instead of a signature, two witnesses must be present when the testator makes the mark and sign their names in the presence of the testator.

If the testator is unable to either sign or mark, his or her name can be subscribed in his or her presence and direction to declare the document to be his or her will. The testator must do this in the presence of two witnesses who must also sign.

A legal will names the executor of the estate. The executor is responsible for administering the estate according to Pennsylvania law and the terms listed in the document. The court will appoint an executor if the testator fails to do so.

Elective Share of a Surviving Spouse and Future Modifications

The surviving spouse of a deceased individual in Pennsylvania may take an elective share of one-third of certain property, defined by statute. If the deceased fails to include a surviving spouse, he or she is still entitled to an elective share and the court ignores the stated terms of the testator's will.

The testator may revoke or modify his or her will at any point in the future. He or she may do so intentionally by drafting further documents, or certain circumstances may incur modification. According to Pennsylvania statute, circumstances modifying a will include the testator's divorce, marriage, birth of children, or murder.

Legal Wills in Pennsylvania Without a Lawyer

In Pennsylvania, a legal will may be written without a lawyer, and the document still allows a testator's assets to pass on according to his or her wishes. If electing to write this estate planning document yourself, make sure you're in accordance with Pennsylvania's laws so that it won't incidentally be deemed invalid.

Writing a last will yourself can be a tough job to take on. Not only do you have to factor in all of the different assets you own, but which assets are even applicable in the will. You'll also have to make sure you're in compliance with state laws so that this all-important document isn't deemed invalid. Though it is possible to take on the draft yourself, it might be beneficial to seek the assistance of an attorney. Professional help can ensure your intentions for your assets can be passed on legally and that you understand the difference between what assets can be listed and what cannot.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.