Wills are legal documents that help you dispose of your belongings after death. Without a will, your assets are disposed of in accordance with the laws of intestacy, meaning that certain family members may wind up with resources you never intended them to have.
Write a Heading
Write at the top of the document "Last Will and Testament of" and then your name. This clearly and unambiguously identifies the document as your will.
Make a Declaration of Capacity
Declare that you are an adult and are of sound mind. This is the minimum capacity requirement under Pennsylvania state law.
Name an Executor
Include a provision that names a specific person whom you want to serve as your executor. This should be a person who you trust to carry out your wishes after death.
Make Specific Bequeaths
Provide instructions for any particular items that you want to give to someone else. For example, you may want your sister to get a certain piece of jewelry or your uncle to get your car. Beware that minor children cannot inherit, so if you want something to go to a minor, discuss the situation with a lawyer or provide the item to someone to hold in trust for the minor.
Include a Residuary Clause
Detail how you want the remainder of your estate to be distributed.
Date and Sign
Date the document and sign it. Your signature must be at the end of the document, or information after the signature may be considered invalid under Section 2502 of the Pennsylvania Code. If you are unable to sign the document, you can sign with a mark. If your not even able to sign with a mark, you can ask a witness to sign on your behalf. When signing with a mark or having someone else sign your will, two witnesses must observe that this act has occurred and sign the will themselves. State that the document that you are signing is your will as you sign it or have it signed.
Have Witnesses Sign
Pennsylvania is one of the few states that does not specifically require witnesses, except for the reasons regarding the signature noted above. Additionally, Pennsylvania does not permit oral wills. Therefore, the only true requirements to execute a valid will in Pennsylvania is that it be in writing and signed by the person whose will it is.
However, lawyers commonly have two disinterested witnesses sign the will to help verify the validity of the will and that the testator appeared to be of sound mind. Otherwise, the court will have to locate people who can verify that the signature is really that of the deceased's. Lawyers may also have witnesses complete a self-proving affidavit. This document is sworn under oath and notarized, stating that the witness verified that he saw you sign your will. It helps witnesses avoid having to testify in court about the validity of the will.
Pennsylvania law requires that wills comply with Pennsylvania wills rules or the state law where the will was made. Failure to follow these rules can invalidate your will. The requirements can be found in Pennsylvania statute's Title 20, Section 2502.
Review a sample will made under Pennsylvania law for the form and content you may wish to include in your own will.
Samantha Kemp is a lawyer for a general practice firm. She has been writing professionally since 2009. Her articles focus on legal issues, personal finance, business and education. Kemp acquired her JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law. She also has degrees in economics and business and teaching.