Initial Filing Fee: $0

When a person dies without a will in Pennsylvania the government steps in to distribute the decedent’s property. The result of an intestate death (death without a will) is that the government divides the property according to a series of objective guidelines. Percentages according to relationship from the basis, rather than need or merit based giving, and as a result it is highly suggested that anyone in Pennsylvania over 18 years old take the time to create a will. Pennsylvania is somewhat unique in the US, however, in that it will not accept a will that is not written out and is not signed in witness of two other people. Additionally, there are several rules governing the composition of a will and, as it is not registered until the time of the person’s death (known as the testator before they die and the decedent after they have died), it is not a bad idea to at least have a lawyer review your will before you pack it away. Finally, the Register of Wills, or the person you register a will with after the subject of that will has died, is not allowed to provide you advice.

Step 1: Chose the Type of Will You Want

While some states provide a little more choice, there is only one form of will that is accepted according to Pennsylvania law, a written will whose signature has been witnessed by at least two other people. When you prepare your will, then, plan to have two other people witness you sign it and to provide the necessary forms or notarization at that time, otherwise they will be required to testify to the Register of Wills upon your death for the will to be accepted as legally binding.

Step 2: Compose the Will According to Legal Guidelines

When you compose a will, you need to make sure that it meets the legal requirements for making that will binding. The legal requirements for composing a will are: 1) you must be 18 years or older; 2) of sound mind; 3) the will must be written out; and 3) you must sign the will. You will also want to assign an executor of the will, or the person who will be in charge of taking care of what you lay out in the will. Otherwise it will be left to the state government and may not proceed as you specifically wished. Then, when it comes to signing the will, you are required to have two witnesses present to witness you doing. These witnesses must, in turn, fill out forms documenting the. When it comes to signing the will, if a testator is unable to sign then they can make a mark on it in the company of two witnesses who understand that this is their mark. If they are unable to make their mark, then another person can sign for them as long as there are two witnesses present who understand that this person is signing for the person with their acknowledged permission. Finally, if you are revising an earlier will, make sure to place a statement in the will that revokes all earlier wills and to date the will as well.

Step 3: Fill Out the Witness Forms

There are three forms that apply to the witnesses, though only one is required per case. These are the Oath of a Non-Subscribing Witness, Oath of a Subscribing Witness, Oath of Witness to Will Executed by Another, and Oath of Witness to Will Executed by Mark. A non-subscribing witness is a witness that did not sign the will, while a subscribing witness is a witness who signed the will. As for the other two, a will executed by another is a will signed by someone other than the testator, while a will executed by mark is a will signed by the testator with some sort of mark other than a signature. While most oaths follow a basic pattern (see first link below), you should contact your county’s courthouse to get copies of the specific forms for your area.

Versions of the Oath provided by Philadelphia Courts
List of counties with links to their courts’ websites

Step 4: Notarize Will

While Pennsylvania does not legally require you to notarize a will at the time of signing, doing so will prevent the witnesses from having to give testimony that the signature is the testator’s before the will can be registered after the testator’s death. In other words, it saves them a lot of hassle down the line.

Step 5: Put Your Will Somewhere Safe

Once your will is complete you need to hang onto it, as you do not file a will until the testator is dead. Thus, place it somewhere safe such as a fire-proof container, safe-deposit box, or with the legal counsel who helped to compose the will in the first place.

Step 6: Revise or Void the Will

If you ever wish to revise a will, you simple need to note in a new will that you revoke all former wills, and then date the new will to recognize it as the most recent. You can also void a will or some part of it by burning, tearing, or otherwise destroying sections of the will or the will in its entirety.

Additional Resources

Examples of Expected Probate Fees in Philadelphia (see individual county websites for a list of their fees)

Packet on the Important of Wills and Legal Guidance from the Pennsylvania Bar

All Pennsylvania Code Forms for the Registration of Wills

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