Many disputes in trust and probate litigation concern the validity of a will, and for good reason. A will is a very powerful document. The person who created the will is no longer around to clear up any confusion or misunderstandings, and so the language must be very precise. The probate court examining the will needs to be certain that the will represents the person’s wishes, and so it must find that the will meets strict formal requirements. Some of the most difficult cases involve handwritten wills.
Recently, the niece of the late singer Aretha Franklin said she found multiple handwritten wills in her aunt’s home. The niece filed these documents with the county clerk’s office, and now the court must decide whether they are admissible.
When the beloved “Queen of Soul” died last year, news reports stated that she left no will. This situation was bound to lead to problems when settling her estate, which is estimated to be worth several million dollars. If the court determines that any of the handwritten documents is valid, it could clear up a lot of confusion. It could also cause new disputes within the late singer’s family.
Already, news reports indicate that family members cannot agree on whether the handwritten documents are valid. One person said that the handwriting is small, some of it is crossed out and otherwise marked up, making the documents difficult to read.
California recognizes the validity of handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills, even if they are not signed in the presence of witnesses. However, holographic wills have special requirements. The signature and material provisions must be in the handwriting of the deceased, known as the testator. A holographic will must also show testamentary intent, which can be shown by other evidence. In other words, to find a holographic will valid, the court must find the testator fully intended for the document to function as his or her will.
Litigation over the validity of wills can be very difficult for families. It is important to have help from an attorney with experience in probate litigation.