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Limits to hand-written wills

A previous post on this blog talked about the ongoing legal conflict surrounding the estate of the late, great singer Aretha Franklin. The so-called Queen of Soul died last year.

As that post discussed, one of the issues is that while Ms. Franklin left no formal will, she did leave several handwritten documents in her home which she styled as wills. The documents did include detailed instructions about how Ms. Franklin wanted to distribute her property after her death and appeared at first glance to be in her handwriting.

As is the case in Ms. Franklin's estate, so-called holographic wills are permitted in New Jersey. However, there are some important caveats, as the law of this state shows a strong preference for wills drafted and executed according to official requirements.

This is why that in order to probate a holographic will, the person wishing to establish it as valid must have clear and convincing evidence that the drafter intended it to be an estate planning document. The same rules apply to other handwritten documents like codicils, that is, amendments to a will, as well as documents revoking or reinstating a will.

Holographic wills present special challenges to the probate and estate administration process. As the story of Ms. Franklin's estate shows, they can take a family by surprise and cause a great deal of confusion and even controversy. If they are likely to come into play during the administration of an estate, it may be very important for interested parties to seek the help of an experienced probate attorney.

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