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Basics of Making a Will in Pennsylvania

Making a will tends to be one of those tasks most people prefer to put off. However, getting your estate planning in order before it becomes a matter of urgency can save your loved ones a lot of headaches and expense.

Learning some basic information about the requirements for a valid Pennsylvania will can help you get started. It is important to avoid using will forms. They offer a very basic template that often cannot do what you need it to. An experienced attorney can help you identify estate planning goals and suggest the best way to achieve them.

Signature and witnesses

For your will to be valid, you need to sign it in front of two witnesses. While this seems - and often is - a minor technicality, there has been a non-negligible amount of litigation concerning what "in front of" means in this context.

To be on the safe side, witnesses should be physically present in the same room as you and should visually observe you signing the will. One type of doubtful situation can arise when the witnesses observe the process via webcam. Be sure to avoid doing this.

Mental capacity

The other major requirement for your will to be valid is that you possess testamentary capacity. This generally means understanding your property and how your will should affect distribution. You should also be making the provisions in this document due to your own free will and not because of coercion, fraud or undue influence.

The mental capacity necessary for a valid will can be lower than that required in other legal settings, such as entering into a contract. An individual with some cognitive impairment can still possess testamentary capacity. Likewise, a person who may have good and bad days in terms of mental capacity can make a valid will on a good day when he or she has the required understanding. While even a diagnosis of a condition such as Alzheimer's does not automatically mean incapacity, it is worth consulting an attorney about ways to protect a will from likely future challenges.

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