Why have a Will?
A Will is a legal document which puts in writing what you want to have happen to your property upon your death. In Pennsylvania, if at the time of your death, you do not have a Will, any property you own in your name alone, after payment of all taxes and debts, will be distributed in accordance with the Intestate Laws of the Commonwealth. The Intestate Laws distribute your property to your family members depending on what family members survived you–spouse, children, parents, grandchildren, siblings and potentially nieces and nephews. The problem is without your Will, you have completely given up control over who will receive what property. For example, if you are married and have 3 children, the first $30,000 will be distributed to your spouse, but the remainder will be divided one-half to your spouse and one-half among those 3 children. Many people think the surviving spouse automatically gets everything, but this is not true. Also, if you did not want 1 of your children to receive any of your property for any reason, he or she would still receive their intestate share. If you have minor children, you may also want the Will to indicate who you would prefer to be their guardian(s).
So, in order to be sure what you want to happen to your property after your death does in fact happen, you need a Will. In Pennsylvania, you can have a holographic Will which means you write and sign it yourself. It does not have to be in any specific form, witnessed or notarized. However, if it is not notarized there are additional steps the executor must follow in order to have the Will legally accepted by the Court. More importantly, there will be many issues you may not consider in your writing. How will the death taxes be paid? What will happen if more than 1 of your children want the same thing (the diamond wedding ring)? What happens if your children are too young to be given your property? I know there are many more questions than these specific to you, but these are the reasons you should consult with a lawyer to prepare your Will. He or she will gather information about your property and finances, but what you want to happen after your death will be most important. You could be hurting your family and costing them much more money in the long run if you do not get a properly drafted Will that is specific to you and your personal circumstances.