A Will, when drafted, is a document intended to last a lifetime. However, what one person or a married couple wants to do with their estate on a given day can be drastically different in 10...15...20 years from now. So how do you revise your will or revoke it altogether? Do you have to see your attorney every time something changes? Can you make handwritten changes on your Will and have it still be valid? Our blog today will answer these questions and provide basic information regarding Wills in Pennsylvania.
A Will in Pennsylvania can be revoked or changed in the following ways:
- An intent to revoke the Will, plus an act of revocation such as burning or tearing the actual Will itself.
- Executing a subsequent later Will that revokes the first Will, or a codicil, which amends part but not all of the previous Will
- By operation of law. For example, if a person is divorced, then the provisions in the Will leaving part of the estate to their spouse are automatically revoked.
These changes can be done by the Testator him/herself or by another person at the Testator's direction. On the other hand, making handwritten changes on your Will is not an advisable way to make changes to your Will. Crossing out a person's name or adding writing to the validly executed Will can cause the entire Will to become invalid.
If a Will becomes invalid, or a Will does not exist at the time of the Testator's death, then the estate passes by Intestacy. Intestacy laws in Pennsylvania provide legal shares of a Testator's estate to his/her spouse and children (if the Testator had children) so that the property owned by the Testator at death can be kept within the family as much as possible.
Even if a Will is invalid at the Testator's death, or a Will was never made in the first place, there are certain shares of the estate that surviving spouses and children are entitled to under the law. A spouse in Pennsylvania has the right to decline to take their share of their deceased spouse's estate and to take an Elective Share. This provides the spouse with 1/3 of what is provided for in the Will and the augmented estate, or things that the decedent retained power over during his/her lifetime.
If a child is not provided for in a Testator's Will, and that child can prove that they were not mentioned in the Will and they were alive at the time of the Will's execution, that "omitted child" can take an Intestate share of the estate, or their share of the estate after the deceased's spouse takes their share under the Will or their elective share.
It is important to speak with an estate attorney every time you wish to change or alter your Will, to ensure that your Will stays valid, and to guarantee that at any given time, your wishes are reflected validly in your Will.