Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans' Court Division

Why A Will Can't Wait

Statistics illustrate that a majority of Americans die without a Will. Understandably, losing a loved one brings great pain to a family. If that loved one dies without a Will, it can bring many unnecessary headaches at the mot inopportune time. Without a Will, much of what you have worked hard for all your life is left to chance.

Why do I need a Will?

A will is a legal document which helps you put your affairs in order at the time that you die. Every adult should have a Will, to outline your intentions regarding your home, money, and other assets (your estate) upon your death.

Your will should identify who will handle your estate, how your assets will be divided, and who will serve as guardian for your minor children. Attorneys are trained to write Wills which accurately set forth your intentions. A carefully drafted Will prepared by an attorney will ensure that your wishes are clearly stated and will be carried out.

Why so much reluctance to make a Will?

Most people have their reasons for not having a wills. None are valid.

Many people think that they will have plenty of time to take care of it later. Some don't think that they have enough assets to worry about a Will. Others assume their family will carry out their wishes after they are gone. Some think that having a Will costs too much to prepare - even though they are not exactly sure what that cost is.

Procrastination frequently sets in because considering a Will forces each of us to think about death - an uncomfortable topic for many. The greater discomfort is the fear that we have not fully provided for our loved ones. A Will can't wait. Only you can make it happen. Schedule an appointment with your lawyer today.

What happens if I don't have a Will?

State laws deals uniformly with all instance of death without a Will. No considerations are made for the special needs of any individual or family. Your money and possessions will be distributed according to a formula fixed by law, which means that your spouse may have to share assets with other family members whom you may not have named in a Will. Dying without a Will could also lead to your minor children being placed in the care of a guardian appointed by the court...not necessarily the person(s) that you would have chosen to raise them. That's why it is so important that you provide for the disposition of your property by leaving a valid Will.

How do I go about having my Will prepared?

If you do not have an attorney and want to find one in your area who can assist you in preparing your Will, contact the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-692-7375 or call the Delaware County Bar Association at (610) 566-6625. Put yourself closer to peace of mind, knowing that your wishes and intentions are clearly outlined in a well-drafted Will.

Can I write my own Will?

Some individuals opt to draft their own Will, utilizing standardized kits or computer software programs-instead of having an attorney handle the procedure. While any Will may be better than no Will at all, do- it- yourselfers must be cautioned that writing a will involves judgement and skills acquired only through professional training and experience.

Developing a Will requires knowledge of federal and state tax laws. Standardized Wills may not be drafted properly for Pennsylvania.

A Will that is not skillfully drafted could result in your estate being distributed in a manner contrary to your wished, and lead to unnecessary legal costs should challenges be raised by disgruntled heirs.

Is it Expensive to have a Will prepared?

There is no set price attached to the preparation of a Will. The fee to prepare a Will which addresses your specific needs will depend upon the complexity of your life situation and your intentions. Most attorneys offer an initial consultation, where they are able to review your needs and to estimate the cost of your Will, based on the information you present.

No matter what the cost, having a properly prepared Will could save your loved ones substantial amounts in taxes and probate expenses down the road. There is no price tag for peace of mind.

I already have a Will - should I feel at ease?

Ideally, estate planning is not a "once and done" process, but rather an evolutionary process which responds to the changes in your life. A Will should be updated as your life situation changes, such as an increase in the value of your assets, the birth or death of a beneficiary, a marriage or divorce, or a change in estate or tax laws, just to identify a few.

What if I change my mind about the contents of my Will?

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. Its terms are kept confidential until after you die. If you think that a change to your Will is necessary, contact your lawyer to review your current intentions.

Is a Will the only document I need?

To adequately deal with all issues relating to the transfer of property at the time of your death, you may need to undertake more extensive "estate planning." Consideration should be given to the manner in which assets are titled, the estate, inheritance and income taxes that will be due at the time of death, and whether assets should be held in trust or given outright to your intended beneficiaries. Other issues relating to the ultimate disposition and taxation of your estate should also be reviewed.

Although a Will is a good start, in many cases you may want to consider such things as a Living Trust, Life Insurance Trust, A Durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Health Care Directive(Living Will). All of these documents should be considered and discussed with your attorney so that your estate plan is tailored to fit your individual needs and intentions.

The above information was furnished by:

The Pennsylvania Bar Association
100 South Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101

The Delaware County Bar Association
Front & Lemon Streets
Media, PA 19063

The Register of Wills & Clerk of Orphans' Court Division is located on the first floor of the Government Center Building and may be contacted at 891-5395.