Everyone needs a Will. If you don’t have one, Pennsylvania law determines who your heirs are and how your assets are distributed to them. Without a Will, your children may end up with a guardian appointed by a court, not selected by you. Your estate might even go to someone you’d prefer to disinherit!

Some key terms



This is the person who receives your probate property when you die. You can name more than one person as your Beneficiary. You can even name a charitable organization as your beneficiary.


The individual who oversees distribution of your Estate. This person might also be called a Personal Representative.

Specific Bequest

This is when you leave a specific dollar amount or piece of property (house, car, financial account) to a specific individual or individuals. This bequest is paid first.  You decide whether or not to have any specific bequests in your Will.

Residuary Bequest

After your estate has paid all of its legally enforceable debts, taxes and specific bequests, what is left over is called your residuary estate. Your residuary beneficiaries receive this property. Many Wills have only residuary bequests (that is, no specific bequests). A common example is when an individual leaves everything to his or her spouse.

Probate and Non-Probate Property

It’s easier to describe non-probate property than probate property. Non-probate property are assets that name a beneficiary. For example, joint bank accounts, 401(K) plans, pensions, jointly owned real estate, etc., are non-probate assets. They are not passed on by your Will. Non-probate assets go directly to your chosen beneficiary and bypass the probate process. All other assets are probate property.

Probate (aka Probate process)

The county Register of Wills determines whether a Will is legally valid and can be probated. This is generally a quick process that takes about 15 minutes. Once a Will is probated, the Executor oversees distribution according to the instructions in the Will. If there’s a dispute about a Will’s validity, there may be an initial hearing before the Register of Wills and then a further hearing before a Judge if necessary.


This is when you die without a Will.  In this case, state laws take over and determine who your Administrator (the Intestate equivalent of your Executor) will be and how to distribute your property without your input. The lack of a Will can also cause long, unnecessary delays as steps have to be taken to find the individuals who are eligible to serve as Administrators and who will be your heirs under Pennsylvania law.


If you have children under age eighteen, you should name a Guardian to raise them in the event that both parents have died.


Money or assets that are not immediately given to a beneficiary but instead are managed by a Trustee according to your directions and allow the Trustee to use the assets for the health, education and general welfare of the Trust beneficiary.


The Trustee safeguards the Trust’s assets for a minor until the minor reaches the age you designate, usually eighteen or older. The Trustee can be an individual or a financial institution that provides trust services.


For any position, it is a good idea to select a back-up in case the person you select for any position is unable or unwilling to serve in any role you have selected.

Co–Executor, Co-Trustee, Co-Guardian

You can select more than one individual to serve in these roles if you choose.

Issues that typically require a more in-depth Will

  • A second or third marriage for couples. This is especially true if there are stepchildren to be considered.
  • Any beneficiary with special needs who receives or may receive in the future government benefits due to their special needs.
  • Any concerns regarding a spouse or other individual who might need to plan for a nursing, retirement or assisted living facility for Medicaid purposes.
  • Concerns about any beneficiary’s ability to handle money due to addiction or other issues of concern.
  • If you own real property outside of Pennsylvania.
  • If you desire to leave a “life estate” to anyone in your Will. A life estate directs that a person does not receive ownership of your property upon your death, but has a right to use or benefit from your property for a defined period of time after your death.
  • If you desire to take steps to minimize any Inheritance Tax owed as a result of your death.

If any of these issues exist for you, a more in-depth Will is likely required to ensure that your Estate Plan meets with your individual needs.

To discuss your Will, contact us at 610-639-1666.