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What is a Will
A Will is a written document which directs the manner of distribution of anything owned at death by the writer of the Will.  It should name an executor whose job is to probate the Will after death and carry out its instructions.
 
Should everyone make a Will?
To make a will in Pennsylvania, the person making the will must be of sound mind and 18 years of age or older.  Everyone, whether wealthy or of modest means, should have a will.  This guarantees that your lifetime accumulations are given to those persons or institutions whom you wish to benefit.
 
What if there is no Will?
Pennsylvania law controls the distribution of an estate when there is no will.  The law does not take into consideration the special needs of any individual or family where the deceased has left no Will.  For example, in the case of a man dying intestate, a close personal friend, who is not a relative, is not recognized by law and would not inherit anything.  Furthermore, in the absence of a Will the Register of Wills must appoint an administrator who may have to post bond, which causes additional expense in the settlement of the estate.
 
How much does a Will cost?
The drafting of a will by a lawyer is relatively inexpensive.  If the Will contains no complicated provisions, it cost is very moderate.  The client can always inquire as to the cost before the lawyer undertakes the work.
 
Does a Will become outdated?
The last Will of a deceased person is valid no matter how old it is.  But good planning requires periodic review and revision of a Will to reflect changes which occur in the family of the maker, the nature and size of his estate and the provisions of the law controlling the settlement of estates.
 
Does a good life insurance program/policy take the place of a Will?
No. Life Insurance is simply one of the kinds of property that you own.  The careful person will have his lawyer and his life insurance counselor work together on a life insurance program especially where special settlements have been set up.
 
Can a husband and wife make a joint Will?
Joint Wills are poorly advised because they can create serious problems.  It may not be clear whether the husband or wife intended that the survivor could change the Will after the first died or whether there had been a binding agreement that the survivor could make no changes regardless of the need that might arise due to changes in the family, the size of the estate or the desires of the surviving spouse.
 
It is better for husband and wife to make separate companion Wills rather than a joint Will.  If the husband and wife intend that after the death  of one the survivor may not change his or her Will, this should be provided in a separate written agreement.
 
Does a Will create more probate expenses?
No. on the contrary, it is possible for a well-drawn Will to effect a savings in expenses.  In the first place, a Will may eliminate the need for an administrator to post a bond.  It is also possible to expedite distribution of an estate by an executor under a Will, because of specific instructions contained in the Will.
 
Must a Will be witnessed?
In Pennsylvania there is no requirement that a Will be witnessed when it is signed.  Often, however, it is advisable that two or more witnesses sign the Will.  This will make it easier to identify the signature of the deceased and to confirm that you were of sound mind and under no duress when you signed the Will.
 
Must a Will be recorded?
Contrary to what some believe, a Will does not get recorded in Pennsylvania during the lifetime of the maker.  It is recorded or probated by the Register of Wills only after death occurs.  This permits the maker to change or rewrite his Will as circumstances require and to keep its terms confidential during his lifetime.  After a Will has been presented to the Register of Wills for probate it then becomes public record.
 
Should you change your Will when you marry?
A Will executed prior to marriage is not binding on the new spouse. 
 
In Pennsylvania, a husband or wife is entitled by law to a portion of the estate of the deceased spouse.  For  this reason a Will drawn before marriage should be rewritten after the ceremony.
 
Does jointly owned property avoid the need for a Will?
Bank accounts, real estate, stocks bonds and other property held in joint names of husband and wife pass automatically to the survivor upon the death of one of them.  This fact does not mean, however, that they do not need separate Wills.  If they are seriously injured in a common accident, either may survive the other, and the survivor may not have the time or opportunity to make a Will….or may neglect to do so.   There are advantages and disadvantages in holding a property jointly with your spouse depending upon your particular circumstances.  Your lawyer can best advise you in this respect.
 
*PLEASE NOTE:*
This page has been issued to inform and not to advise.  It is based upon Pennsylvania law.  The statements are general, and individual facts in a given case may alter their application or involve other laws not referred to here.