Creating a Pennsylvania last will and testament is important if you wish to have control over the distribution of real and personal property upon your death. Pennsylvania wills give the person writing the will, called the testator, the opportunity to provide for a spouse, children, other loved ones, and pets after her death.
It is important to note that a last will differs from a living will in that the latter provides instructions in the event that you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions regarding your health and medical care. Pennsylvania explicitly allows living wills.
Do You Need a Last Will and Testament?
Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) determine the distribution of an estate's assets. Because the outcome may not coincide with the decedent's (the person who passed away) wishes, it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.
Having a last will and testament can be beneficial for many reasons, including the fact that it allows the testator to choose the executor of her estate, the person who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes contained in the will. If you do not choose an executor of your estate in a will, a court will do so for you.
A will can serve various purposes, most notably by providing a way for the testator to detail how assets should be divided upon her death. In general, Pennsylvania law permits you to dispose of your property as you see fit, with some exceptions as described more fully below.
Another benefit of a Pennsylvania will is that it can allow you to name someone as the legal guardian of your children and/or handle property left to minor children.
In addition to testamentary trusts (i.e., trusts created through a last will and testament) that provide a benefit for people, Pennsylvania law explicitly permits the creation of a trust to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime. A Pennsylvania will gives you the opportunity to set up this kind of pet trust, which terminates upon the death of the animal or animals provided for in the trust.
A valid last will and testament can also help the estate navigate through the probate process with ease. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person. In Pennsylvania, probate begins with the filing of a petition for letters testamentary or of administration at the county register of wills where the decedent was domiciled. Once debts and taxes of the estate are paid, the property as designated in the will may be distributed.
Intestacy: Dying Without a Will
Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. In Pennsylvania, this means that your property is distributed entirely to your spouse if there is no surviving child or parent. The share taken by the surviving spouse does change, however, depending on whether there is a surviving parent or child, and whether any surviving children are also the descendants of the surviving spouse.
Accordingly, you can see the importance of making a Pennsylvania will if you would like to have control over the distribution of your assets.
Exceptions to Ability to Distribute Property
Although generally you may provide for the distribution of your assets after your death as you wish, Pennsylvania law does give a surviving spouse the right to a one-third share, which the spouse may choose to take or not, of including but not limited to the following property:
- Property passing from the decedent by will or intestacy;
- Income or use for the remaining life of the spouse of property conveyed by the decedent during the marriage to the extent that the decedent at the time of his death had the use of the property or an interest in or power to withdraw the income thereof;
- Property conveyed by the decedent during his lifetime to the extent that the decedent at the time of his death had a power to revoke the conveyance or to consume, invade or dispose of the principal for his own benefit.
Form a Last Will in Pennsylvania
The basic requirements for a Pennsylvania last will and testament include the following:
- Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old.
- Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind.
- Signature: In order to be valid, the will must be signed in one of three ways:
- By the testator.
- Signature by mark by the testator - the testator may use a mark that has the name of the testator written before or after it if he makes such mark in the presence of two witnesses who sign their names to the will in her presence.
- By someone other than the testator in her presence and by her express direction - the testator must declare the document to be her will in the presence of two witnesses, who must then sign the document in the presence of the testator.
- Witnesses: Except in the situations discussed above, witnesses are not required for a Pennsylvania will to be valid.
- Writing: A Pennsylvania will must be in writing to be valid.
- Beneficiaries: Pennsylvania does not limit the class of beneficiaries who may be included in a will.
Other kinds of recognized last wills in Pennsylvania
In addition to the last will and testament as described above, Pennsylvania also recognizes holographic (handwritten) wills as valid legal documents. In Pennsylvania, a handwritten will must be executed in the same manner as any other will as explained above in order to be valid.
Changing a Pennsylvania Last Will and Testament
A Pennsylvania last will and testament may be changed whenever the testator wants to do so through a codicil, an amendment to the will that must follow the execution procedures of wills.
Revoking a Pennsylvania Last Will and Testament
The revocation of a Pennsylvania will can be accomplished in the following ways:
- Subsequent will or codicil (an amendment to the will);
- Other writing, which must state that it is revoking a previous will or wills and must be constructed, signed, and proved in the manner required of wills; or
- Act to the document such as burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying the will with the purpose of revocation by the testator herself or by someone else in her presence and by her direction.
When you are ready to make a last will of your own, LegalZoom can help. You can start a last will online in three easy steps. LegalZoom also offers other legal documents and services to help you plan for the future, including getting a power of attorney, living will, and living trust.