The concept of a will is fairly simple. You want to tell others how your estate should be distributed after your death, so you state your wishes in a document. In reality, however, wills can get complicated. This is especially true when handwritten wills are involved.

Lessons from Aretha Franklin and Larry King

What do Aretha Franklin and Larry King have in common? They both left handwritten wills.

In fact, Aretha Franklin left multiple handwritten wills. According to the Detroit Free Press, three handwritten wills were discovered after Franklin’s death. Two are from 2010 and one is from 2014, and they provide conflicting instructions. To complicate matters further, a fourth will has now been found. This one was drafted by a law firm in 2018 but was never signed.

Larry King’s handwritten will amended an earlier will. According to the Los Angeles Times, Larry King wrote the handwritten will in 2019, two months after King filed for divorce from Shawn King, his seventh wife, but that divorce was never finalized. The will does not include his Shawn King, who is now arguing that the will may have been written under questionable circumstances.

Four Ways Handwritten Wills Can Go Wrong

A handwritten will might seem like a straightforward way to make your wishes known, but it can go very wrong. Here are four problems that can arise when you use handwritten wills.

  1. Your relatives may contest it. This is one of the biggest problems with handwritten wills. Relatives may claim that you wrote the will under duress or when you were not competent to make decisions. Alternatively, they may claim that you changed your mind and the will did not reflect your most recent wishes.
  2. Your will may conflict with state law. Estate law can be complicated. For example, in Oregon, spouses may be owed an elective share of the estate, meaning you can’t simply disinherit a spouse. When creating a will, it’s important to make sure that the will can hold up to scrutiny and comply with state law.
  3. The situation may have changed. What happens if your heirs die before you? If your will contains a total failure clause, you’ll have a backup plan to ensure your estate doesn’t go to the government. Handwritten wills are less likely to have clauses in place to address issues like this.
  4. Your heirs might not know which will to use. When people create handwritten wills, they sometimes create multiple handwritten wills. This makes sense, in a way. Afterall, major life changes – such as getting divorced, getting married, buying a house, or having children – will require updates to your will. Having multiple handwritten wills can result in confusion, however, and that can lead to disputes.

Do Estate Planning Right

If you’ve considered creating a handwritten will – or if you’ve already done so – it’s good that you’re thinking about estate planning. A handwritten will isn’t the best way to do it, however. Avoid future problems by working with an estate planning attorney who can ensure that your will and other estate planning documents are in proper order.