Q: My mother is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. My father has power of attorney over her. They are 85 years old. My sister and I do not live in PA. He doesn’t want to do a will. He sent me a letter in the mail which listed of all his assets and properties that are all paid off. He added in the letter that he wants me to be the executor, I get 3/4 of their estate and my sister gets a 1/4. He is afraid that everything they worked hard for will be given away (he has a lot). He insisted that I sell everything and not give it away. But he won’t get a will. Any advice will be appreciated. If I had some facts like how long it would go through probate? Meanwhile properties sit not maintained. How much will go to the state. If you don’t have a will do you pay more in death taxes or probate court? Thank you! (Alexandria, VA)
A: You need to tell him that his worst fears could be recognized by not having a will done by an experienced attorney which is in full compliance of the law. A bad will can cost his estate and heirs more money in the long run. In PA, a handwritten will, called a “holographic will” signed by the testator and witnessed by two persons who sign as witnesses, is admissible. A handwritten document signed at the end by the testator even if not witnessed by two persons is also admissible. However, in these cases, where the will is not “self-proving” through the notarization process, the witnesses themselves must come to court or their affidavits be obtained, The later instance (not witnessed) will involve a hearing in which the witnesses must be able to testify that the signature is in fact the testator’s signature and the directives in the will are in fact his testamentary wishes. It is a difficult standard to prove and the result would be that the will is inadmissible. If your father wants to give your more of the estate than the intestate laws (no will) provides, he should do a will through an attorney. If he refuses, have him write a document titled “Will”. He will need to write out to whom his property will pass and choose an Executor. Have him sign at the end, then have two witnesses sign beneath him. Make sure these witnesses are disinterested and will be available in the future to come to court or sign affidavits if needed.