Do you know what will happen to your property or money after you die? If you have children, who will care for them? If you want to decide who gets your assets and takes care of your children, you should consider creating a will.
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Do I Really Need a Will in Pennsylvania?
You are not legally required to have a will in Pennsylvania, but it is a good idea to make one if you want to choose who takes care of your children and receives your property or money after you die.
If you die without a will, the courts will distribute your property according to Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws. Intestate means dying without a will. Intestate succession laws dictate the order in which relatives will inherit from you. If you have a spouse, no children, and your parents are deceased, your spouse will receive everything. If you have children or living parents, then your parents or children could inherit a portion of your estate depending on several factors.
If you do not have a spouse, children, or living parents, then the intestate succession laws provide a list of relatives who are eligible to inherit from you. The list starts with close relatives and moves on to more distant relatives until the court finds a living person able to inherit from you. If you have no relatives to inherit from you, then your assets will pass to the state.
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How To Get a Will in Pennsylvania
If you want a valid will, you can hire an estate planning attorney licensed in Pennsylvania, or you can purchase a will form from a reliable source. Follow these steps when using a form: See full process
List your assets and decide how you want to give them away
Make a list of everything you own, including money, real estate, personal property, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts. Determine how your personal representative will distribute these items after you die.
A will is not the only way to give your assets to others. Other methods include:
- A gift during your lifetime
- Putting assets in a trust for another person’s benefit
- Listing a person as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy or retirement account
- Using a payable on death financial account
If an item is owned solely by you, it will pass through probate as instructed by your will or the intestate succession laws.
Choose your beneficiaries
Your beneficiaries can be people or organizations like schools or charities. In a will, you can give small gifts to one beneficiary and large gifts to another. A will is a good tool for giving sentimental items to friends or family.
You also can prevent someone from receiving any of your assets by disinheriting them in your will. However, if you want to disinherit a spouse or child, you should ask an estate planning attorney for advice.
Choose a personal representative
Being a personal representative is an important role with significant responsibility. You should select someone trustworthy, responsible, and comfortable dealing with legal and financial professionals. You also should name one or more successor personal representatives to serve if your first choice is unable to serve.
You should let your personal representative know that you want them to serve and let them know what their responsibilities will be. Some of the personal representative’s responsibilities are:
- Presenting your will to the register of wills for probate
- Identifying and securing your probate assets
- Notifying everyone who has an interest in your estate about the probate process
- Notifying creditors
- Paying bills for your estate
- Filing tax returns and paying taxes for your estate
- Distributing your assets to beneficiaries
Your personal representative will use your estate’s funds to pay taxes and bills for the estates. They also can use estate funds to pay attorneys and accountants to help them with the probate process and filing taxes.
Choose guardians for your minor children
In Pennsylvania, your will can name a guardian of the person and a guardian of the estate for a child. Your child’s guardian of the person will raise them and make decisions about their education, health, and welfare. The guardian of the estate will manage all your child’s assets, except for assets held in a trust for your child. These two guardians do not have to be the same person, and it is sometimes wise to choose different people for each role.
A guardian of the person should want the responsibility of caring for your child, and you should trust that they will treat your child well and raise your child according to your values. A guardian of the estate should be trustworthy and have good financial sense.
If you have minor children, consider creating a revocable living trust in addition to a will. A trust lets you control when and how your children receive your assets. In your trust, you will name a trustee who will manage your children’s assets.
Sign your will
Many states require two witnesses to sign a will, but Pennsylvania only requires the testator to sign at the end of the document. If the testator cannot sign the will, they can mark the end of the document or direct another person to sign the will for them. If a testator uses a mark or someone else signs for the testator, two witnesses must be present and sign the will.
Even though witnesses are not required to sign your will, you should always use two witnesses and have them sign an affidavit under oath before a notary public. You also should sign an acknowledgment before a notary public. If you take these additional steps, you will have a self-proved will. The register of wills will accept a self-proved will for probate without further need for witness testimony about the validity of your signature.
Finally, avoid using witnesses who are beneficiaries of your will. If someone is a witness and a beneficiary, other beneficiaries or people left out of your will might claim undue influence or impropriety. This could lead to a challenge in court, delayed probate, and stress for your loved ones.
Store your will in a safe place
It is important to keep your executed will in a safe place because it can be difficult to probate a copy of a will. If you use an attorney, you can ask if their firm stores original wills, but you should make sure they have a plan to store your will if the firm goes out of business. You also can keep a will in a safe place in your home or a safe deposit box at a bank. If you choose a safe deposit box, make sure your bank will allow your personal representative or family members to access it.
You should let your personal representative know where your will is stored and how to access it. You also can let a few trusted friends or family members know its location in case your personal representative is unavailable when you die.
Review your will when your circumstances change
If you marry, divorce, have a child, or accrue considerable assets, you should review your will because you likely will need a new one. Even without a major life change, you should review it every few years to ensure it still expresses your wishes. You also can ask a Pennsylvania estate planning attorney to review your will.
You May Want To Speak With a Lawyer if You:
- Have a past divorce, blended family, or other complex family situation
- Have a high-value estate
- Own a business
- Want to create a special needs trust
- Want legal review of your completed will
Ready to get started on your Pennsylvania will? It’s free to start.Create My Will
Pennsylvania Will FAQ/People Often Ask
A last will and testament is another name for a will. It is also called a last will. A person who makes a will, called a testator, must be 18 years old and of sound mind. A will is an estate planning tool that you can use to:
- Choose how your property and money should be divided after you die
- Name beneficiaries who will receive your money and property
- Name guardians for your children
- Name a personal representative to manage your estate
Before your beneficiaries receive your assets, your assets likely will go through a court process called probate. However, some estates worth less than $50,000 can go through a simplified process if someone with an interest in the estate files a petition to settle a small estate with the court.
You do not need a lawyer to make a will in Pennsylvania. You can create a will on your own, but you should use a will form from a reputable source like FindLaw.com if you make a will without a lawyer.
FindLaw is not a law firm, and the forms are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney. If you have legal questions, a complicated family dynamic, or significant assets, you should seek legal advice from an estate planning attorney licensed in Pennsylvania. An attorney can make a will for you and discuss whether you need other estate planning documents.
If you hire a lawyer, you likely will pay at least a few hundred dollars for a will. However, the cost of a will depends on many factors, including the complexity of your family and assets. Many attorneys charge a fixed fee for a will, but other attorneys will charge an hourly rate.
Pennsylvania does not offer a free statutory will form. You might see free forms online, but you should be careful about using a free form because they might not comply with Pennsylvania law. If you use a form, it is safer to buy a form from a reputable source. When purchasing a form, make sure it is designed to comply with Pennsylvania law like the Pennsylvania will form we offer.
You can change your will by creating a codicil. A codicil is a legal term for a change to a will. A codicil must be signed in the same manner as a will. Only use a codicil for small changes to your will. If you have several changes or a major change, create a new will.
The best way to revoke a will is to create a new will that states it revokes all previous wills and codicils. However, you also can create a document that states it revokes your previous will if you sign it in the same manner as a will. Finally, you can revoke your will by burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying it with the intent to revoke it.
In Pennsylvania, all wills must be “in writing” and signed by the testator at the end of the document. “In writing” can include a handwritten will, but you should not handwrite a will unless you are facing imminent death and do not have access to a form or an attorney. A handwritten will can be difficult for a judge to read, which could cause a judge to reject it or your heirs to challenge it.
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