Some states require the signature of a notary public when a last will and testament is signed. Pennsylvania is not one of them. However, if the person making the will – the testator – does not have it notarized, they’ll need to make the will “self-proving.” This means that witnesses will sign affidavits stating that the testator signed the will on the date of its execution.
This is done in the presence of a notary public and is necessary in case the probate court requires proof of the will’s validity after the testator dies.
What Is a Will?
One of the most important steps in estate planning is the execution of a valid will. A will allows the “testator” to plan and determine the distribution of their assets after they die. A person who doesn’t have a will or someone who dies without a valid will dies “intestate.”
When this occurs, Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws dictate how the deceased’s assets will be distributed. This typically starts with the decedent’s property going to their closest relatives or family members first. A testator who leaves a valid will has their assets going to their desired beneficiaries instead of to relatives they may have never even met.
Pennsylvania’s Requirements for Creating a Will
When creating a will in Pennsylvania, an individual must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind, according to state laws.
A will in Pennsylvania must be in the form of a hard copy or on actual paper printed from a computer or typewriter. It cannot be in digital, audio or video format. The state also does not recognize holographic wills – those written in a testator’s handwriting with no witness signatures – or oral wills.
Signing a Will in Pennsylvania
The testator must sign a will to finalize it. For a will to be valid, it must meet these legal requirements:
- Anything written after the testator’s signature, before or after its execution, cannot invalidate the information before the signature.
- If the testator cannot sign their name, the will is valid if the testator makes a mark with two witnesses present who sign their names to the document in the testator’s presence.
- If the testator cannot sign their name, the will is valid if the testator declares that the will is theirs with two witnesses present who sign their names to the document in the testator’s presence.
Pennsylvania does not require a testator to sign a will in front of a notary public. However, a notary will be needed to make the will “self-proving.”
What Is a Self-proving Will?
While Pennsylvania doesn’t require witnesses or a notary to make a valid will, the probate court may require proof of its validity after the testator dies. Pennsylvania law lets the testator make a will "self-proving.” This allows the court to accept the document as valid without contacting witnesses who signed it.
In this instance, the testator signs the document in front of two witnesses who have nothing to gain from its contents. The testator and two witnesses then sign affidavits stating who they are and that the will was signed on a particular date.
This must be done in front of a notary public, who will notarize the signatures of the testator and the witnesses and attach the affidavits to the will.
Revoking a Will In Pennsylvania
A will can be revoked at any time in Pennsylvania. To be effective, the testator can:
- Burn, cancel, destroy, obliterate or tear it with the intent of revocation.
- Order someone else to burn, cancel, destroy, obliterate or tear it in front of the testator and two witnesses.
- Make another will revoking the previous one.
- Making another document stating that the old will has been revoked following the same formalities testator used to create the original document.
If the testator and their spouse were in the process of divorcing or did divorce after the testator had established grounds or, in the event a court determines that the testator’s marriage is not valid, Pennsylvania will revoke the language in the will that states the spouse will be left property or is the will’s executor.
However, there is an exception to this rule if the testator specifies that the divorce does not affect the will’s contents.
Changing a Will in Pennsylvania
A Pennsylvania testator who wants to make changes to their will can simply revoke it and make a new will. However, if the changes they need to make are simple, they can make an amendment to the will known as a codicil.
The addition of a codicil can be as simple as changing a name or a number, or it can be more complex, such as adding a new section to the original will. Pennsylvania considers a codicil to be part of a will and after the testator dies and their will is read, the codicil will also be read. A codicil must be created with the same requirements as the original will.
Digital and Electronic Wills in Pennsylvania
A few states allow electronic and digital wills, without requiring a paper copy. Pennsylvania is not one of these states – it still requires the use of hard copies, but recognizes out-of-state wills in compliance with the laws of the state where they were created.
The use of digital and electronic wills may change in the near future, as at least one part of the process has been digitized in Pennsylvania. The state now permits the use of electronic and remote notarization, which was originally established in 2006 in limited transactions.
As a result of COVID, the state passed Act 97 in early 2020, making online notarization permanent.
- Pennsylvania Legislature: 20 Pa. C.S. Section 2501 Who May Make a Will
- Pennsylvania Legislature: 20 Pa. C.S. Section 2502 Form and Execution of a Will
- Pennsylvania Legislature: 20 Pa. C.S. Section 3132.1 Self-proved Wills
- Pennsylvania Legislature: 20 Pa. C.S Setion 2505 Revocation of a Will
- Pennsylvania Legislature: 20 Pa. C.S. Section 2507 Modification by Circumstances
- Haggerty Law: FAQs About Wills in Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Dept of State: Electronic/Remote Notarization
- NOLO: Making a Will in Pennsylvania
- FindLaw: Pennsylvania Wills Laws
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.