1. What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document which directs who shall inherit
your property, how your debts are paid, who will serve
as Guardian of your minor children, what is to be done
with your remains, and who will manage your Estate. By
drafting and executing a Will, you are able to control
all of these vital aspects of your final arrangements.
2. What if I die without a Will?
Without a Will, you have no control over who is chosen to
manage your Estate or who ultimately inherits your
property. These important questions are decided
according to Pennsylvania Law which may not agree with
your wishes. For example ~
specific items of great sentimental value, such as wedding/engagement rings or other
jewelry, may be sold and the proceeds divided among
numerous heirs rather then going to an intended heir.
Who should make a Will?
Every adult individual should consider making a Will. A
common mistaken belief is that Wills are only necessary
for individuals with great wealth or complicated
Estates. This is not the case.
Aside from directing who should inherit your
property, a Will also provides direction regarding
funeral arrangements, burial arrangements, memorial
services, in addition to naming Guardians for any minor
children and naming the individual who is to manage the
Estate. Furthermore, even though your Estate may be
modest at this time, there is always the chance that
your Estate may significantly increase in value due to
events as common as finding a better paying job or as
uncommon as prevailing in a lawsuit or winning the
4. How often should I revise my Will?
Every Will should be reviewed occasionally to ensure that the
document still reflects your intent regarding your
final arrangements. A good rule of thumb would be to
review the Will every three (3) to five (5) years.
Additionally, events such as marriage, divorce or the
birth/adoption of children will have an effect on how
the provisions of your Will are interpreted and carried
out. Upon the occurrence of any of these events, your
Will should be reviewed and revised if necessary.
5. What if I change my mind about the contents of my
In Pennsylvania a Will is not filed (or probated) until after
a person dies. As a result, you can change or update
your Will throughout your life as circumstances require.
The terms of the Will are kept confidential until after
you pass away.
6. Can I write my own Will?
Some individuals opt to draft their own Will utilizing
standardized kits or computer software programs instead
of having the attorney handle the procedure. While any
Will may be better then no Will at all, you should be
aware that writing a Will involves judgment and skills
acquired only through professional training and
experience. The knowledge of federal and state tax laws
is certainly beneficial in preparing a Will. A Will not skillfully drafted could result in your Estate
being distributed in a manner contrary to your wishes
and lead to unnecessary legal costs if challenges are
raised by disgruntled heirs.
1. Do I need legal help?
By scheduling a consultation with an attorney, your legal
questions with regard to settling the estate can be
answered. The attorney would be able to advise you as to
whether or not an estate needs to be raised in view of
the particular facts and circumstances of each
You will want to consult with an attorney who concentrates their
practice in estates as they will be experienced in
dealing with the variety of legal issues that could be
involved in settling an estate.
2. What would determine whether an estate needs to be
This would be determined by what the decedent (deceased
person) owned, how those assets are titled and the
indebtedness of the estate, all of which would also
dictate whether or not the estate will be relatively
simple or involved.
3. What does probate involve?
Probate is a legal process whereby when a person dies leaving
a Will, the executor (legal representative as dictated
by the decedent in Will) presents the Will to the
Register of Wills for probate to prove its validity.
The Register of Wills then appoints the executor and
Letters Testamentary will be issued by the Register of
Wills which authorizes a person(s) to act as the
personal representative(s) of the estate. The executor has
the responsibility of notifying the beneficiaries and
creditors of the death of the decedent. The executor
also secures and manages the assets of the estate,
satisfies all claims against estate, pays estate taxes
and distributes the remaining assets to the
4. What if a person dies without leaving a Will?
If the decedent did not have a Will (intestate) or if the
Will fails to name an executor, the register of Wills
will appoint the appropriate person or entity to act as
Administrator of the estate, at which time Letters of
Administration are issued. The Administrator has
the responsibility of notifying the beneficiaries and
creditors of the death of the decedent, securing and
managing the assets of the state, satisfying all claims
against estate, pays taxes and distributing the
remaining assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with
the laws in intestate succession which are determined by
5. How long does it take to administer an estate?
Administration of an estate can be a lengthy process which
commonly can take a year or more to complete depending
on the complexity of the estate. Each step of the
process requires legal documentation and validation,
along with detailed accounting which may take a
considerable amount of time.
6. What documentation will my attorney need with
to the estate?
You will need to collect and identify a variety of documents
which generally will include:
Death Certificates (Your funeral director can furnish you
with certified copies of the death certificate. Purchase
a minimum of 12, as most companies will request a
Beneficiary Information (name, address, telephone number,
social security number and date of birth)
Deeds (to include jointly held property and property in
Bankbooks, Certificate of Deposits, Savings Bonds and Account
Stock Certificates and Investment Account Statements
Pension, IRA and 401 (k) account information
Former employers, union or professional organizations with
which the decedent may have had an association (for
Life Insurance Policies and Benefits (some loans, mortgages,
and credit card accounts are covered by credit life
Credit Card and Loan Accounts information
Individual income tax returns for previous year(s)