Contrary to what some believe, a Will does not get registered in Pennsylvania during the lifetime of the maker. It is recorded or probated by the Register of Wills only after death occurs. A Will becomes a public record only upon death and probate in the Register of Wills Office. This permits the maker to change or rewrite his Will as circumstance require and to keep its terms confidential during his lifetime. A decedent’s "last" Will automatically revokes all prior Wills and is the only one which is valid.
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A Will is any written document which directs the manner of distribution of anything owned by the writer at the time of death. It should name an executor whose job is to probate the Will after death and carry out its instructions. A Will may also appoint guardians of the estates of minors who receive property under the 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 institution whom you wish to benefit.
If there is no Will, the Pennsylvania Intestate Law directs who will be the beneficiaries of your estate regardless of any special needs of persons you might like to benefit. Furthermore, you have no choice over who will settle your estate or serve as guardian of minors. Under the law the Register of Wills and Orphans’ Court must make these choices for you, and your estate may have to post a bond thus incurring additional expense.
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 during the lifetime of the testator, in the nature and size of his estate, and in the provisions of the law controlling the settlement of estates.
No, but 2 witnesses, subscribing or non-subscribing, must appear at the Register of Wills’ office at the time of probate to prove and identify the testator’s signature. Subscribing witnesses may appear before a notary. A Will witnessed by subscribing witnesses can better survive a Will contest because the testator’s legal capacity to make a Will is presumed. When a self-proving affidavit accompanies the original Will, it is not necessary for the original witnesses to appear before the Register of Wills.
The disposition of one’s property is determined by many personal factors including family, personal relationships, and interests in charities. A Will should be changed when those relationships, including divorce and death, occur. For example, Wills executed before marriage or the birth of a child are not binding on either. Spouses or children can receive what they would have received in the absence of a Will. Changes to a Will may be made by writing a new Will or a Codicil conforming to the requirements for a valid Will.
If you have a simple Will drafted by an attorney, the cost is usually modest. You can write your own Will, however, it must conform to Pennsylvania statutes in order to be valid.
No, a well-drawn Will may save expense. A Will appointing a Pennsylvania resident or which waives bond saves the estate an annual bond premium. Specific instructions in the Will may spare the estate the expense of obtaining special court orders.
No, life insurance is just one kind of property that you may own. You need a Will to give away your other assets.
Most assets held in joint names pass automatically to the survivor upon the death of one of them. There are advantages and disadvantages in holding assets jointly depending upon your particular circumstances. Your attorney can best advise you in this respect.
Yes, Pennsylvania Inheritance Taxes are payable on the value of most assets owned by the descendant at the time of death and are due within 9 months after date of death. The Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Rate is 0% on assets passing to the spouse and those passing from children under 21 to their parents. Assets passing to lineal descendants (children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents) are taxed at a rate of 4.5%. The tax rate is 12% on assets passing between siblings and 15% to all other beneficiaries except bequests to charities and governmental entities which are exempt from taxes. The tax applies to the net estate after deductions.
A Federal Estate Tax Return is due when the gross estate exceeds 2 million dollars.