The hot news recently, is that after a lengthy, expensive legal battle, a Michigan jury concluded that superstar music icon Aretha Franklin’s 2014 handwritten four pages of instructions were a valid “Will” and that it superseded her 2010 handwritten Will. Despite all her wealth and having four children, the “Queen of Soul” evidently didn’t bother to engage an attorney to prepare a formal Last Will and Testament for her. Instead, she opted to write it all out herself.
Can a handwritten document (called a “holographic will”) be valid in New Jersey?
Yes, as long as it contains all the necessary elements for a “Will” and is sufficiently clear. A Court proceeding is always required. In Aretha’s case, she died in 2018. The family thought at first that there was no Will and that therefore, the entire estate would be divided equally among the four. But then 7 or 8 months later two writings were found.
The litigation went on for five years because two different documents were found – one written in 2010 was found in a locked cabinet, and a later one dated 2014 was found inside a notebook hidden in her couch cushions.
Needless to say, the later writing made significant changes to what was in the 2010 writing. Also only one of the writings could be accepted as “The Will.” The litigation was extensive. Once the Court found the 2014 writing to be a valid writing intended as her Will, its instructions superseded anything that came before it.
In other earlier posts I’ve addressed the requirements for a valid Will, the process of estate administration, and related topics. The main point today is that your estate big or small is too important to just leave to chance. Call us for advice on how to structure your estate plan; get it written up right; and don’t hide it under the cushions where it might never be found.
If you’re looking for guidance for your Last Will and Testament, contact our experienced lawyers today to get started.