The first step of the probate process is establishing that the testator’s last will and testament is authentic and valid. In many states, wills are only valid when they are signed in front of witnesses who then sign the document themselves, but witnesses are not required to sign wills in Pennsylvania. In the Keystone State, a witness is only required to sign a will if the testator is incapable of signing the document or can sign only by making a mark.
While asking witnesses to sign a will is not be required in Pennsylvania, it is advisable to have individuals present. This is because a will cannot be probated in Pennsylvania until it is authenticated, which could be difficult if nobody witnessed the document being signed. In these situations, the probate court will require the testator’s signature to be validated. This can take time and creates another task for the executor.
One way to speed up the probate process and avoid any confusion is to draft a self-proving will. In Pennsylvania, this is done by attaching a notarized affidavit to the will bearing the signature of the testator and two witnesses. When this affidavit as attached, the witnesses are not required to appear in probate court to authenticate the will. Contentious estate administration disputes may arise when wills were written years or even deceased before the testator passes away and witnesses are unable to validate his or her signature because they have died as well. This unfortunate situation could be avoided with a self-proving affidavit.
Help with estate planning
When wills cannot be validated, the estate’s assets are distributed according to intestacy laws, which may not be what the testator had in mind. If you are thinking about drafting a will, an experienced estate planning attorney may advise you to sign the document in front of two witnesses and complete a self-proving affidavit. If you drafted your will years ago, an attorney could advise you to revisit the document to make sure that it still reflects your wishes.