Making a Will in Pennsylvania

How to make a will in Pennsylvania, and what can happen if you don't.

What Can I Do With a Pennsylvania Will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

In Pennsylvania, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. Pennsylvania's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will in Pennsylvania?

No. You can make your own will in Pennsylvania, using Nolo's do-it-yourself will software or online will programs. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or if you want to disinherit your spouse, you should talk with an attorney. Nolo's will-making products tell you when it's wise to seek a lawyer's advice.

What Are the Requirements for Signing a Will in Pennsylvania?

To finalize your will in Pennsylvania, you must sign at the end your will. Pennsylvania law does not require your will to be witnessed (unless you cannot sign the will yourself or can sign only with a mark). 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2502.

However, while witnesses aren't required to make your will valid, they may be required at the time of probate (after you die) to "prove" your will to the probate court. Pennsylvania law allows you to avoid this hassle by making your will "self-proving." 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3132.1. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

To make your will self-proving, you sign your will in the presence of two witnesses. Then, in a notary's presence, the three of you sign affidavits that state who you are and that you signed your will in the presence of the witnesses. The notary then notarizes your signatures and you attach the affidavits to your will.

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

No, in Pennsylvania, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal. However, you must go to a notary to make your will self-proving, see above.

Should I Use My Will to Name an Executor?

Yes. In Pennsylvania, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's will software and online will produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

In Pennsylvania, you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

  • burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying your will with the intent to revoke it
  • ordering someone else to burn, tear, cancel, obliterate, or destroy your will in front of you and two other witnesses
  • making another will that revokes your old one, or
  • making another writing that says it revokes your old one while following the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above). 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2505.

If you marry after you make your will, your spouse gets whatever he or she would have received if you did not have a will unless your will gives him or her more than this or it says that you were considering marriage to your spouse at the time you made it.

If you and your spouse divorce or were in the process of divorce after you had established grounds for divorce (or if a court determines that your marriage is not legal), Pennsylvania law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse to be your executor. This rule does not apply if you specifically state in your will that divorce should not affect the provisions in your will. 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2507. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.

If you need to make changes to your will, it’s best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).

Where Can I Find Pennsylvania’s Laws About Making Wills?

You can find Pennsylvania’s laws about making wills here: Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Title 20 Decedents, Estates, and Fiduciaries Chapter 25 Wills.

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