A will is an invaluable tool that can be used to help plan your estate. A will allows you to continue to provide for your family once you have passed away. However, not everyone has set aside time to take inventory of all of their assets and to prepare for it to be passed onto their family. Therefore, if tragedy suddenly strikes, it is understandable to wonder if a handwritten will is enough to pass on your estate to your family. If you or a family member must know if a handwritten will is valid in Pennsylvania, you should speak with an experienced Pennsylvania estate planning lawyer. At Herr Potts and Potts, our lawyers are here to help you reach your estate planning goals to provide for your family. Our lawyers are here to explain the legality of handwritten wills in Pennsylvania.
When is a Handwritten Will Legal in Pennsylvania?
A will is a legal document that states the wishes the decedent has for their estate after they pass away. In Pennsylvania, a handwritten will is legal under certain circumstances. Before discussing how a handwritten will can be legal in Pennsylvania, you should know the legal requirements for creating a will.
Pennsylvania state code section 2502 states that a will should be “in writing” and that the creator of the will (the “testator”) should sign their will at the end of the document. If the testator writes any additional words after their signature, it will not affect portions of the will written above their signature.
The code does not make a distinction between wills that are handwritten or wills that are typed. Additionally, the testator should be 18 years of age and must possess a “sound mind” when executing their will. This means that the testator should understand all of the property she can convey and know all of the people or organizations that she will convey her property to. Many will contests begin because a family member or close friend believes the testator did not possess a sound mind when they executed their will.
In Pennsylvania, the validity of a handwritten will can depend upon a few different factors. Pennsylvania does not have a requirement that a will must be witnessed. However, a handwritten will that is signed by the testator and not witnessed by anyone may not be valid in Pennsylvania (these wills are also known as “holographic wills.”) Pennsylvania courts have an interest in ensuring that a will was not forged by an individual who wants to take advantage of the decedent’s estate. Therefore, some holographic wills may not be admitted to probate, and the decedent will have been considered intestate (died without a will) when they passed away.
Even though Pennsylvania does not require witnesses for a will to be declared valid, one of the best ways to ensure a handwritten will is accepted is to have the will signed by two or more neutral witnesses. At the least, these witnesses should be present when the testator is signing the will so that they can attest to the signature when appearing before the Register of Wills during probate.
There may be a time when a testator is too ill to write and sign a will. In these circumstances, a testator can request another individual to write their will and even sign it for them.
If you wish to know more about the validity of handwritten wills in Pennsylvania, you should speak with an experienced West Chester elder law attorney.
What Happens if My Handwritten Will is Judged Invalid?
As mentioned above, if a handwritten will is judged as invalid, the decedent’s property will be distributed according to Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws. The laws of intestacy in Pennsylvania will distribute an individual’s estate in the manner they assume the decedent would have done themselves. This means that the decedent’s closest family members would receive all or the majority of the decedent’s property. For example, a surviving spouse or the decedent’s children would be the first to receive a portion of the estate.
If the decedent was unmarried and had no children, other relatives may receive their estate, like their parents or siblings. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to estranged members of the decedent’s family receiving a portion of their estate. Pennsylvania law also does not consider the special needs of a family member when distributing an estate. Therefore, if you want to care for a specific family member, you should ensure you create a valid will before you pass away.
Our Elder Law Attorneys Can Help You Create a Legal Will
If you or a family member needs assistance in creating a will, you should speak with an experienced Pennsylvania elder law attorney. Our attorneys are here to cater to your unique estate administration needs. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us at (610) 254-0114 or reach us online.