How to make a will in Pennsylvania

A guide to Pennsylvania probate laws.



Elissa Suh

Elissa Suh

Personal Finance Editor

Elissa Suh is a personal finance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has researched and written extensively about finance and insurance since 2019, with an emphasis in estate planning and mortgages. Her writing has been cited by MarketWatch, CNBC, and Betterment.

Published June 23, 2020|2 min read

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Who can write a will in Pennsylvania?

Anyone who is at least 18 years old of “sound mind,” may write a will in Pennsylvania.

What are the requirements for witnessing a will in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania does not require witnesses to a will for it to be valid as long as the will is signed by the testator in the form of a signature (as opposed to a “mark”). A will that is unsigned or signed by a “mark” may also be valid in Pennsylvania if it is signed by two witnesses in the testator’s presence.

However, during probate, the court will require witnesses to confirm the testator’s signature when it’s time to prove the will after the testator has died. To avoid this, you can notarize the will to make it “self-proved”. A self-proved will includes an affidavit signed by two witnesses in the presence of a notary.

Can witnesses be beneficiaries of the will in Pennsylvania?

Yes, beneficiaries can be witnesses of the will in Pennsylvania, but it is recommended that you choose disinterested witnesses.

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What are the requirements for nominating an executor in Pennsylvania?

  • Age of executor: At least 18 years old

  • Corporate executor must be authorized to act as fiduciary in the state

  • Cannot be a charged of manslaughter or homicide (excluding vehicular homicide) in relation to the testator’s death

  • Out-of-state executors may be required to post an executor bond

Can you create a holographic will in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania allows for handwritten wills that follow the signature and witnessing requirements.

Holographic wills that are properly executed and made in another state that allows for them can be valid in Pennsylvania.

Is Pennsylvania a community property state?

No, Pennsylvania is not a community property state.

In a community property state, each spouse has an equal share of property acquired during the marriage. Property acquired before the marriage is considered separate property.

Laws of intestacy in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, when there is no will, the court will determine who receives the intestate estate based on the laws of intestate succession.

This is how much a surviving spouse receives in a few different circumstances:

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and:Surviving spouse's share
No descendants or parentsEverything
Parent(s)The first $30,000, plus 1/2 of remaining intestate estate
Descendants from the surviving spouseThe first $30,000, plus 1/2 of remaining intestate estate
Descendants from someone other than the surviving spouse1/2 of remaining intestate estate

Otherwise, when there is no surviving spouse, then the intestate estate will pass along to next of kin in the following order.

  • Children

  • Parents

  • Siblings, or their children (nieces/nephews)

  • Grandparents

  • Uncles, aunts, or their children (cousins)

For someone to receive the estate, there must not be anyone left in the category above them. If an inheritor is dead, then their share typically passes to their children by a per stirpes designation.

Filing the will in Pennsylvania

After the testator dies, the will must be filed at the office of the Register of Wills or the Orphan’s Court in the county where the decedent lived.

Estate administration without probate in Pennsylvania:

In Pennsylvania, small estate petitions allow for informal administration when the gross estate value is less than $50,000.

The following are excluded from the valuation of the estate: up to $10,000 in unpaid wages, salary, and employee benefits, up to $10,000 in a checking or savings account, up to $10,000 in a patient’s care account if the decedent was a recipient of public assistance at a medical facility, and a life insurance death benefit up to $11,000 if payable to the estate. These amounts may be paid out to the decedent’s heirs after funeral expenses are paid.