Is Ron Swanson’s Will Valid in Pennsylvania?

January 5, 2017

According to Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation fame, “the three most useless jobs in the world are, in order, lawyer, congressman, and doctor.” While Ron Swanson may be my favorite television character of all time, I, of course, beg to differ with this assessment.

The above quote comes from Season 6 of Parks and Recreation, and the context is a discussion about the value of having a Will drafted by a lawyer. Ron proudly presents his Will which was handwritten by himself at age 8 on a yellow piece of notebook paper.

The Will states:

Upon my death, 

all of my belongings shall transfer 

to the man or

animal who has 

killed me. 

[several weird symbols that only the man who kills him will know] 

Ron Swanson

The burning question: would Ron’s Will be enforceable in Pennsylvania?

In order to have a binding Will in Pennsylvania, the maker must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. The age requirement could present a problem for Ron, but since he said he’s had the same Will since he was 8 years old, for the purposes of this post, let’s assume Ron re-drafted the Will at some point after he attained age 18.

Wills in Pennsylvania must be in writing, and handwritten Wills are permitted provided that the signature can be verified by witnesses at the time the Will is probated at the Register of Wills’ office.

Assuming the procedural requirements for an enforceable will have been met, what about the content of the Will? If a man or an animal kills Ron, could either inherit all of his belongings?

Unfortunately, the answer is no in both cases. Pennsylvania has a “slayer” statute which prevents any person who participates in the unlawful killing of another person from acquiring property from that person. Further, animals are considered property and therefore cannot inherit assets.

With the help of an attorney, Ron could, however, create a Trust for the care of the animal pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S. Section 7738. Typically these Trusts are used for pets, however, I suppose it could be used to care for any animal. Since the slayer statute defines a slayer as a person, an animal responsible for the death of a person would not be prohibited to receive the benefit of Trust assets by that law.

Whether the document is handwritten or obtained online, it’s important to make sure the document accurately reflects your wishes. And Ron, if you’re reading this, I hope I’ve managed to change your mind about item number one on your list.

Matt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University School of Law and advises clients on issues of Business LawIntellectual Property Law and Information Technology & Internet Law. Over the past several months, Matt has been diligently working his way through Parks and Recreation in its entirety and loving every second of it.