Drafting Your Will: The Basics

In the midst of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, many of our clients may be concerned as to whether or not they have their affairs in order in the event of their passing. As most law firms, including MacDonald, Illig, are not meeting with clients at this time, they may believe that they are unable to get a Will prepared. However, a Will does not have to be drafted by an attorney in order to be a legally binding document. As such, any person, called the Testator, can prepare this document on their own at home and it will be enforceable as long as it complies with Pennsylvania law.

In Pennsylvania, the execution and preparation of a valid Will has three components.

  • 1. Written Document - Pennsylvania requires that Wills be in writing. This writing does not have to by typed, but can be handwritten by the Testator. However, it is important that the Will is legible if handwritten. Oral wills or promises are not valid in Pennsylvania and will not be followed after the Testator's death.
  • 2. Signed at the End - The Will must be signed by the Testator in order to be valid. Pennsylvania makes allowances for signatures by mark and by another individual at the direction of the Testator, but requires those signatures to be witnessed by two disinterested individuals. Regardless, it is important that the signature of the Testator appear at the end of the Will as any language following the signature will not be followed. Signatures by witnesses or a notary are not required for a Will to be valid, unless the Testator is signing by mark or another individual is signing for them.
  • 3. Testamentary Capacity - In order to execute a valid Will, the Testator must have the capacity to do so.  This requires that the Testator be over the age of 18 and be of "sound mind." Being of sound mind requires that the Testator understands the assets and debts they possess at the time of signing and how their Will distributes their property to their named beneficiaries. If a person does not have the testamentary capacity to create a Will, it will not be valid even if the other requirements are met.

While a Will can be prepared and executed by anyone, it is highly recommended that an attorney is consulted either before or after a Will is executed to make sure it complies with your wishes and Pennsylvania law. Even though a Will is valid if the above criteria are met, there may be specific situations which require an estate planning attorney's expertise. As such, our attorneys are ready and willing to prepare your Will for you to be executed in your home at your convenience, regardless of its simplicity or complexity. These documents will be binding, but can be changed later to include witnesses and notaries to conform to standard practices. Please contact any of our Estate Planning attorneys to help in the preparation of your Will or any other Estate Planning documents you may need.