Pennsylvania Probate laws (Title 20: Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries) discuss everything from Intestate Succession to Elective Shares of Surviving Spouses, to inheritance taxes and the procedure for administering an estate. The average individual probably doesn’t know how the Pennsylvania Orphans courts handle estates during the probate process. Unless you have served as an executor or administrator of an estate before, you may not understand the process or any of the rules that apply to the intergenerational transfer of wealth when someone dies.
If you don’t understand the probate system, inheritance taxes, advertising of the estate, and various other regulatory concerns that will affect the administration of your estate, you could easily make mistakes when creating your own estate plan. That lack of information is one of the most glaring issues with creating your own last will, especially if you just use an online document to plug in your personal information.
Although using a cut-and-paste document off the internet for your last will might seem like a cheap and effective solution, the chances are very good that it will actually cost your estate more in the long run and very possibly may be rejected by the court or challenged by a beneficiary in whole or in part allowing it to be invalidated.
You might make mistakes that invalidate your last will
The idea that you can just leave whatever you want to anyone without consequences or control is a common misconception about estate planning. For example, you can’t disinherit your spouse to get back about the affair they don’t realize you know about because spouses have a statutory right to inherit. The only way to do that is by filing a divorce complaint before you die.
If you do something “illegal” in your last will, the probate court will likely get involved and could consume a significant portion of the assets you intended to leave to your family. Not only would your estate have to pay for court costs, but there could be multiple different attorneys involved in varying roles of the process if different family members are pushing for different outcomes.
Probate proceedings are likely if people suspect fraud or undue influence in your last will. You would also lose control over who gets what, as the courts might either revert your estate plan to a previous last will or handle your estate as though you died without a will. Creating a thorough, custom estate plan is a safer and more cost-effective solution than gambling your legacy on a cheap knock-off. Just remember folks, you get what you pay for. Saving a penny today could cost your estate quite a few dollars later.