Is There an Age Limit on Having a Will?
Did you know that you have to be 18 years or older to have a will in Pennsylvania? Dying young is a terrible thing, but unfortunately, it does happen. So why can’t someone under 18 make a will, and are there any exceptions to Pennsylvania’s age limit on wills?
Pennsylvania actually matches the majority of states in the United States by having an age limit of 18 on wills. Our estate planning attorneys can explain why this is.
Why is There an Age-Limit on Wills?
Across the country, most states require you to be 18 before you can sign a contract. This includes Pennsylvania. Since you cannot legally sign contracts while you are a minor, you can’t create wills or any other estate planning document. This age-limit on wills also bars you from creating trusts, living wills, power of attorney, and/or an advance directive.
When you are a minor, many of the decisions that fall under estate planning are left up to your parents or current guardian. The state will only make exceptions in cases of a legally emancipated minor or a minor traveling between states with different laws.
Otherwise, other laws and regulations are in place to handle a minor’s property if they pass. Since parents or guardians have the right to take temporary custody of a minor’s property, they’ll receive a deceased minor’s property as well. If a minor has a medical emergency, their parent or guardian would be asked to make any decisions. A minor can’t make decisions for themselves over their parents or guardians even if they are physically able to make decisions.
While there are no set rules that a minor can’t pre-write a document before they turn 18, if they sign it before they do, it may not apply after they turn 18. The law does not legally recognize that a minor understands a contract, and by signing it before turning 18, there’s a strong argument it was made under undue influence. This would leave a will or other estate planning document under great scrutiny.
Do the Rules Change From State to State?
This would actually be relevant if you travel from another state to Pennsylvania or vice versa. If someone under 18 dies in Pennsylvania while the legal resident of another state, or has property in Pennsylvania when they die, their will from that state can be followed in some instances.
If they were once a resident of another state where they had a will, but lived as a resident of Pennsylvania when they died, their will is not likely to be followed. At least, their property in Pennsylvania will not be followed.
Currently, there are two states that allow minors under the age of 18 to make a will. Georgia and Louisiana allow minors who are at least 14 and 16 years of age, respectively, to make wills for themselves. South Dakota requires that people be older than 18 to make a will, so the rules work in reverse if they come to Pennsylvania.
Are There Exceptions to the Age-Limit on Wills?
There are exceptions to the rules that you can pursue with an estate planning attorney. These exceptions include legally emancipated minors, underage members of the military, and–in some circumstances–minors who inherit or earn large sums of money.
Legally Emancipated Children
In Pennsylvania and most of the United States, minors have parents or guardians who are legally responsible for them until they reach the age of majority, which is 18 in most states, with some variations. Until that time, they have to provide food, clothing, and shelter to the minor.
A legally emancipated minor functions as an adult with some caveats, despite being under 18. They gain the rights of an adult that they need to survive and do not have to abide by the rules of their parents or guardians, but their parents or guardians no longer have to provide food, clothing, or shelter. Making a will is included in these.
Pennsylvania doesn’t have a general emancipation statute, so the minor has to provide a specific reason to the appropriate social service, rather than a court of law.
Underage Members of the Military
You can enlist in any active branch of the military at 17 years old. If you join the military when you are 17, you are legally emancipated and gain the rights of an adult. This includes making estate planning documents.
Before you are deployed, it’s smart to create a will and other estate planning documents. This can handle any property or income you leave behind or gain while serving the country. Advance directives and living wills can be beneficial if you’re injured.
Minors with Large Inheritances
There are cases where a minor may come into a large sum of money that needs to be looked after with a will and/or trust. Minors are not legally barred from creative endeavors that will bring in large amounts of revenue, nor from creating services and businesses. They can also inherit large sums of money and property from other people.
For these instances, the age-limit on wills can be waived if they petition for the right to make a will. It is in the best interests of the state and community to make sure a large amount of money is accounted for in the off chance the minor passes away. There is no specified amount, so it’s better to talk with an estate planning attorney to determine if you have enough money or high-valued assets to be worth petitioning a court.
Contact the Estate Planning Attorneys at MVSK Law
Our estate planning attorneys have experience with various situations. If you’re facing an issue with your estate that you’re not sure how to handle, we can help you. It’s never too early to consider what you want in your will or trust, even if you’re not old enough to get one just yet. Contact us today for more information.