Pocono & Pennsylvania Will Basics

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You definitely need a will if you have children. Even if you don’t have children, you probably need a will.

Each state has formal requirements for preparing and signing a will.


  • You must declare that the document you’re signing is your will
  • Your signature must be witnessed by at least two or three witnesses, who must sign the will in each other’s presence
  • Each state has specific requirements for how your signature and the signatures of the witnesses must be worded

Types of Wills

A holographic will is handwritten, without witnesses. Few states recognize holographic wills, and only in very particular circumstances.

Oral wills, also called “nuncupative wills,” are only recognized in a few states and usually only in compelling situations such as the impending death of a soldier in wartime.

A self-proving will is one that has been witnessed and signed with all the formalities required by state law. A self-proving will saves a great deal of time and effort when it turns out that one or more witnesses can’t be located or are themselves deceased.

What Should My Will Include?

Your will should detail:

  • That you are of sound mind as you are reading and signing the will
  • The names, locations and dates of birth of your immediate family, including your spouse and all children, including adopted children. Talk with your lawyer about whether to name illegitimate children and stepchildren to avoid claims that you have simply left them out and would have provided for them if you’d been thinking of them.
  • Appointment of a guardian and alternate guardian for any minor children. Your lawyer will be able to tell you whether you should have a separate guardian to manage their finances.
  • A list of who should inherit specific items of property. In some states, this is handled more informally with a separate list that can be frequently updated, which is kept with the will.
  • What will happen to any remaining property not specifically mentioned by you
  • Who will be your “executor,” the person responsible for carrying out the directions you leave in your will, such as distributing the property and paying any debts and taxes

Where Should I Keep My Will?

A will should be kept in a safe place such as a bank safe deposit box or fireproof safe at home, where it can be easily located after your death.

If you keep your will in a safe deposit box, you’ll need to arrange for your executor to have access to the box after your death. Many states put a freeze on a safe deposit box at death, which makes it more difficult to retrieve the will.

When Should I Update My Will?

Your will should be updated whenever:

  • You marry or divorce
  • You give birth to or adopt a child
  • When a family member or other beneficiary of your estate dies
  • When someone you’ve named as an executor, trustee or guardian is no longer able to fulfill that role
  • When you decide to change an executor, trustee or guardian
  • When you want to change the way your property will be distributed
  • When you move to another state
  • When your net worth increases dramatically

Revising a Will

A will can be revised by:

  • Making minor changes in what’s called a “codicil,” a formal amendment to the will
  • Preparing an entirely new will revoking the prior will
  • Independent events such as divorce or adoption. State laws vary as to the effect these events may have on the validity of your will.

Although making a will is a sobering experience, your loved ones and friends will thank you for being so organized and thoughtful ahead of time.