We recently wrote about the trouble Aretha Franklin’s estate is having due to the recent discovery of a number of handwritten wills. These documents can be problematic for a number of reasons. Oftentimes it’s unclear who is being named as a beneficiary or heir. Also, the terms of trusts are vague or ambiguous. Other times there are contradictory terms. Each of these issues can present problems when the will is supposed to go into effect. Under such circumstances, untangling the testator’s intentions can be a nightmare. In other cases the will is deemed legally invalid.
Arizona does recognize the legal validity of handwritten wills, known as holographic wills, but only if it can be shown that the material terms of the document and the testator’s signature are written in his or her handwriting. That sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Far too often in these circumstances experts are required to testify as to the testator’s handwriting. Also, since these holographic wills don’t require witnesses, they are often more susceptible to attacks regarding coercion and undue influence.
So what does this all mean for Arizonans who are looking to create a simple estate plan? It means that they shouldn’t risk trying to draft their own legal documents unless they are comfortable with the significant risk of those documents failing to serve their intended purposes. By taking a do-it-yourself route, individuals could have their most beloved relatives lose out on inheriting property while those they intended to leave out of inheritance take a significant share.
This is why Arizonans who are looking to create or modify an estate plan, even a relatively simple one, should work closely with an estate planning attorney who knows how to create legal documents in a way that ensures legal validity and clarity. Ensuring one preserves their legacy for their loved one is a very important step one should take.