Register of Wills
Let's Talk About Wills
What is a Will?
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.
Should Everyone have 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 institution
whom you wish to benefit.
What if there is no Will?
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.
Does a Will Become Outdated?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 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.
Must a Will be Witnessed?
No, but two 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.
When Must a Will be Registered?
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
When Should a Will be Changed?
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.
How Much Does a Will Cost?
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.
Does a Will Create More Probate Expenses?
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.
Can Life Insurance Take the Place of a Will?
No, life insurance is just one kind of property that you may own.
You need a will to give away your other assets.
Does Joint Ownership Avoid the Need for Having a Will?
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.
Are Taxes Payable on an Estate?
Inheritance Taxes are payable on the value of most assets owned by
the descendant at the time of death and are due within nine 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, & grandparents)
are taxed at a rate of 4½%. 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 $2,000,000.00.
This information 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.
Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans' Court
Donald Petrille, Jr., Esquire
Bucks County Courthouse
55 East Court Street
3rd Floor, Administration Building
Doylestown, PA 18901
Register of Wills: 215-348-6265
Orphans' Court: 215-348-6271
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
1st & 3rd Wednesday every month –
open until 7:30 pm
Offsite Location for Probate & Marriage:
Lower Bucks Government Service Center
7321 New Falls Road
Levittown, PA 19055
Monday 1:00 to 4:00 pm
Tuesday and Thursday 8:30 am to 4:00 pm
Friday 8:30 am to 12:00 pm