Providing legal advice/representation for individuals and families in Philadelphia: Bankruptcy, estate planning and family law

Copyright 2009 Clair M. Stewart:  Philadelphia Bankruptcy Attorney. All Rights Reserved
100 S. Broad St. #1523, Philadelphia, PA 19110 Phone: 215-564-5150 Fax: 215-405-8055
Clair M. Stewart
Attorney at Law
Estate Planning and Adminstration Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a Will?

A will is one of the most important legal document the average person will ever sign. It is an instrument that, upon your death, controls who gets your property, who will be the guardian of your children, and who will manage your estate (i.e. bank accounts, property, vehicles, etc).

2. What If I Die Without a Will?

Dying without a will means that you are "intestate". Therefore the Commonwealth, not you, will decide how your property is to be distributed.  First, your jointly held property passes on to other joint owners.  Then your property will be divided between your heirs (i.e. spouse, children, siblings), according to the intestate laws of the Commonwealth.  You will have no control over who will or will not receive anything from your estate.
3. What are the Legal Requirements for a Valid Will?

1. Soundness of Mind: The person signing the will cannot be mentally ill or disabled and must be acting of his or her own free will, without undue influence from others.
2. Witnesses: At least two people must watch you sign the will.  It would be best if they are unrelated to you and are not entitled to anything under the will to prevent a conflict of interest.  A will should also include a Self Proving page. This page is notarized and then allows you're the executor to file the will without the witnesses being present. 

4. Can I Change or Completely Revoke My Will?

Changes:You can make changes to your will at any time.  The first way to make changes to a will is to make a codicil, which is an amendment to a will.  A codicil is a separate document and must be signed and witnessed just like a regular will. Because of these formalities, it is usually easier just to make a new will.  The second way is to make an entirely new will, which revokes and takes precedence over any older wills.  Be sure not to make any changes or markings on your will after it has been witnessed and signed. This is absolutely vital. If you cross out a person's name or add writing to a will that has already been signed, you risk making the whole will invalid.
Revocation:To revoke a will without making a new one, all you have to do is intentionally tear it up, deface it, burn it or destroy it. If this is done accidentally, then the will is not revoked. 

5. Can I Make a Handwritten Will?
A handwritten will is called a "holographic will".  They are valid in Pennsylvania so long as all material provisions and clauses are entirely handwritten (1. Gifts made in the will; and 2. Names of the beneficiaries). However, because errors are common in holographic wills and because they often cause delay in administering estates, we do not recommend them. The court can be unusually strict in determining whether a holographic will is authentic. 

6. Do I Have to File My Will in a Court?

Pennsylvania does not require that you file your will in a Court.   Upon probate, however, the will must be filed with the court and will become public. 

7. Can I Disinherit  My Spouse or My Children?

In Pennsylvania, unless you have a post or prenuptial agreement, your spouse has a right to a portion of your estate, even if you disinherit your spouse in your will.  However, you can disinherit your children.

8. Can I Use a "Pre-Prepared Will" If I Want to Make a Will?

Many clients do. But the problem, of course, is that unless you regularly work as an Estate Planning Attorney you likely do not know what is required to make a valid Will.   A lawyer, such as Clair M. Stewart,  that focuses exclusively on Wills and Trusts can help make sure that your wishes are followed through after your death.   Many clients try to prepare their wills from "pre-prepared forms" then eventually turn to us to ensure that their will is valid.  

Contact Clair M. Stewart, an experienced Philadelphia estate planning attorney who can help you in all of your estate planning needs. We may be reached at 215-564-5150 or through our Legal Intake form.