After Aretha Franklin’s death in 2018, two wills were found in her home. Both were handwritten by Franklin and neither was drafted by an attorney. A judge recently determined that a jury could decide whether the 2014 document that was found in a notebook underneath a couch cushion was valid as opposed to an earlier document that was found in a locked cabinet. Franklin had signed and dated the 2014 document, but it was not witnessed or notarized.
Michigan law provides that holographic (“handwritten”) wills must be dated and the testator’s signature and the document’s material portions must be in the testator’s own handwriting. Franklin had four sons, who were treated differently under the terms of the two handwritten documents. After listening to considerable legal argument and being shown large posters of the 2014 handwritten will with crossed-out words and scribbled notes in the margin, the jury determined it was valid.
Franklin’s 2014 will was ultimately determined to be valid, but that is not usually the case with handwritten wills. Further, the validity of a will is determined under state law, which means if you move out of Michigan and handwrite a will, it may not be allowed under that state’s law. Several states do not accept any form of a handwritten will but could if it was valid in the state of execution at the time it was written. Also, if a handwritten will is invalid, your estate will be distributed as if you did not have a will, which is according to the state’s intestacy statute.
Rather than put your family through the ordeal of a possible trial and legal determination of what is valid or invalid, contact us today at 248.477.6300 and let us help you formally prepare your estate plan.