Why Do I Need a Will and How Do I Make One?
Aug. 14, 2020
I was wrapping up a real estate closing with a client when he asked me, “Why do I need a will?” This was not the first time I had been asked this question. In fact, I remember the first time someone had asked me this question.
I was just starting my career at my first firm. I was consulting with a woman and her family about their case regarding an upset sale. Their home was sold at a tax sale a few weeks ago due to delinquent taxes. The clients were visibly concerned and shook by their case. Luckily, I was able to get their home back, get the taxes paid off, and restore some normalcy to their lives. The clients were thrilled. The client had little to no idea that I just passed the Bar Exam and had little to no experience. It was the first rewarding moment of my short career. However, the feeling quickly faded.
The woman went on to tell me about her mother having a will. The client asked me why did she need a will. My response to her question was less than spectacular. At one point I said to my client that you just need one with zero reasoning as to why. After the consultation ended, I left the conference room feeling defeated. I felt I had left my client uneasy about my ability to help them and possibly left them confused about the importance of estate planning. As I walked back to my office, I told myself I cannot let that happen again. I began reading and researching wills. I realized that wills are not just a luxury or something to have, but rather, they are a necessity.
The Necessity of a Will
A will is something everyone needs to have drafted. People that have little to nothing still need a will. A will is necessary to dispose of property, decide how your children are to be taken care of in the event of your death, avoid a timely probate process, minimize taxes, appoint a representative to handle your estate at the time of your death, make gift or donations, or even avoid legal issues. These are just a few items that a will can address. In a future article, I will address in length these items, but for now, it is important to recognize that a will covers a wide array of areas.
These areas or items may not be important to everyone, but each individual or family will be impacted by one or more at some point in their life. A common issue that arises is what happens to my children if I die? Will they go to an orphanage? Will their grandparents take them? This is something that can easily be planned out by having a will. A will can appoint guardians for your children in the event of your death. Having a will is one of the best acts of love you can do for your family. It allows them to not have anxiety about what happens to the house or who is going to make sure the children are cared for. We live in a world of uncertainty and a will can lessen that uncertainty for your family once you are gone.
How to Draft a Will
Pennsylvania has adopted specific statutes to address this question.
A will can be made by someone who is at least 18 years old and of sound mind.
The will must be in writing and signed by the testator. This means no video wills like the ones you see on television or verbal wills.
A will needs to be signed. However, not every individual is able to sign their name to a will. Pennsylvania allows a person to sign by making a mark. The statute states that if a person is going to sign by mark, two witnesses must be present during the person's signing by mark, and the witnesses must sign their names on the will.
Pennsylvania law also permits another person other than the testator to sign the will. This process also requires two witnesses to be present during the time of signing and to sign the will. The testator must expressly state to the witnesses that the will is his. While signing by mark or by another is generally not common, it is something that could arise and cause issues down the road if not done properly.
A common practice is to have the will notarized. A notarized document ensures that the signors to the document are legitimate. This can help avoid several potential issues later on.
It is worth noting that you are able to use programs that help draft a will without consulting with an attorney. However, I would caution individuals from using such programs. These programs might save money initially, but in the future, they may cost you. An attorney can help you draft a will and advise you on any potential issues you may face regarding your estate.
This is only an introduction to wills and what they can do. If you wish to know more, McKelvey Law Offices, LLC is an estate planning law firm that can answer your questions. We can walk you through the complexities of estate planning and give you peace of mind.
Please contact McKelvey Law Offices, LLC at www.mckelveylawoffices.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.