Where There’s a “Will,” There’s a Way

In Michigan, any document that says who gets what after one’s death and that meets specific requirements constitutes a valid will. There are exceptions to this general rule, however, allowing certain less formal documents to also qualify as wills.

Those exceptions were just expanded in an important decision from the Michigan Court of Appeals. The case involved a man who wrote in his journal, “My final note, my farewell is on my phone.” The journal entry included instructions on how to access the note on his phone. No part of the electronic note was in his handwriting. The note stated, among other things, who should inherit his property. The man deposited the journal and the phone in his room and then left home to kill himself.

In ruling that the electronic note was a valid will based on “clear and convincing evidence” that the man intended it to be his will, the Court gave great weight to the fact that the journal entry was in the man’s own handwriting, that he clearly made the electronic note with his imminent death in mind, and that he did not expect the note to be read until after his death.

The note existed only electronically, yet the Court gave it effect under a statute that allows a “document” to qualify as a will if it is clear that the decedent intended it as such. This expansive reading of “document” opens the door to interesting possibilities. If an electronic note can pass as a valid will, then what about an audio or video recording? We’ll have to see where this ruling takes us!

If you have questions about setting up a will or about probating one following the death of a loved one, do not hesitate to contact our office at (248) 477-6300.