What Constitutes a Legal Will in Pennsylvania?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

What Constitutes a Legal Will in Pennsylvania?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

A will is a valuable estate-planning tool that allows a person, also known as the testator, to designate how they want their estate distributed upon their death. If a person dies intestate (without a will), the court distributes their entire estate according to Pennsylvania law. Having a valid, updated will is important if you want to take matters into your own hands when deciding how and to whom you transfer your assets when you die.

Pen and glasses on last will and testament

General Requirements of a Valid Will

Each state has its own laws governing the creation of a valid will. In general, the requirements of a will are that it must be in writing and signed by both the person making the will and one or two witnesses. Pennsylvania, however, does not require the signatures of witnesses unless the testator cannot sign for themselves.

If a will does not meet all of the state requirements, there can be serious consequences. For instance, a state may decide to ignore the invalid will and distribute the deceased's estate based on the laws of intestate succession.

For a court to consider a will to be valid in Pennsylvania, it must meet certain prescribed requirements set forth in Title 20 of the Pennsylvania Code.

Age and Mental Capacity

Most, if not all, states have a specific age and capacity requirement. In order for a will to be valid in Pennsylvania, Section 2501 of Title 20 requires that the testator be at least 18 years old. Anyone younger than 18 cannot enter into a binding will. In addition to the age requirement, the individual must be of sound mind. The testator must know what they are signing, and they cannot have been deemed incompetent in a prior legal setting.

In Writing

Section 2502 requires that for any will to be considered valid, it must be in writing. It can be typed or handwritten. However, state law does not recognize holographic wills, or wills written entirely in the testator's handwriting but not signed by witnesses. If the testator wishes to handwrite their will, it must comply with the same requirements as a typed will. Pennsylvania does not recognize oral wills.

Signature Requirements

A valid will is required to be signed by the testator. If a testator is unable to sign their will for any reason, they can place a mark before or after the testator's name and have two witnesses sign the will in the testator's presence. Any words that come after the testator's signature or mark do not invalidate anything that comes before it.

Witness Requirements

If the testator's actual signature is on the will, there is no requirement for a witness to be present at the time of the will's execution. However, Pennsylvania law requires two witnesses to be present at the time of probate to authenticate the testator's signature.

Out-of-State Wills

Pennsylvania recognizes out-of-state wills in two limited circumstances. If a person's will was executed in a different state, the law of that state applies to determine the will's validity. If a person dies out of state, the deceased's state of domicile applies to determine the will's validity.

Writing a will is important to designating where your assets go after you die. In the state of Pennsylvania, you will need to ensure you meet the requirements for age, signatures, and witnesses, or understand the laws governing an out-of-state will.

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