What is a “self-proved” or “self-proving” will in Pennsylvania?

If you’re the executor of an estate, you want to be able to walk into the register of wills office, present the original will (along with other required materials), get sworn in, obtain the documents you need, and walk out ready to start settling the estate.

A “self-proved” or “self-proving” will is going to help.

If you are doing your estate planning now, make things easier for your executor by signing a will that is self-proved. (I will discuss how shortly.)

Background

To make a valid will in Pennsylvania, you must put it in writing and sign it at the end. If you can only make an “x” or some other mark instead of signing, two witnesses must be present and must also sign their names to the will in your presence. If you can’t sign or even make a mark, you can authorize someone else to sign for you, but again, you must have two witnesses who also sign their names to the will in your presence.

In order for the will to be accepted by the register of wills to open an estate, Pennsylvania law requires that the will be “proved by the oaths or affirmations of two competent witnesses.”

So if you had simply signed your will in front of two witnesses, those witnesses could appear at the register of wills office and swear under oath that they did indeed watch you sign that will. But what an inconvenience for the witnesses!

And what if you signed the will 30 years before you died? Will the witnesses still remember? Are they still alive? Can they be found? If not, can someone else swear that they recognize your signature on the will?

Self-proved will

A self-proved (sometimes called “self-proving”) will solves this problem.

If the will contains certain acknowledgements and affidavits, the register of wills shall accept the will without the need of witnesses to the signature.

Here is an example of an acknowledgement and affidavit that would be acceptable under Pennsylvania law:

When it won’t be accepted

There are three situations in which the register of wills would not accept a self-proved will:

1. When the validity of the will is being contested;

2. When the will is signed by mark; and

3. When the will is signed by someone else (as described above in the first paragraph under Background).

In these situations, you’ll need to have witnesses appear or submit sworn statements.

Execution

Finally, it’s important to remember that to make an effective self-proved will, the document must be executed correctly.

You’re not required to use the services of an attorney, but a qualified attorney can often help you make sure your will is drafted and executed properly.

New probate petition form required

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has adopted a new form to be used in opening probate estates.

The new form is not radically different from the current form, but in my opinion it is an improvement. It arranges information in a clearer, more logical fashion.

Use of the new form will be required beginning November 10, 2011.

The new form can be found here.

The Supreme Court’s order adopting the new form can be found here.

Can you transfer auto title without a probate estate?

Whether or not there is a probate estate, title can be passed to others by submitting the right forms with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Motor Vehicles. (Procedure in other states may be different.)

Form MV-39 contains detailed instructions on what you will need to submit, which varies depending on how the car was titled.

Keep in mind that to pass title using that form, all of the deceased person’s debts must be paid and you will need to submit proof of death (either an original death certificate or the certification of an attending physician or funeral director on the Form MV-39).