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Aretha Franklin’s handwritten Wills – don’t make the same mistake

It was thought that singing legend Aretha Franklin had died without leaving a Will - until three homemade and handwritten versions, one found tucked behind cushions in her living room, were reportedly discovered at her Detroit home recently.

A court hearing is scheduled for next month to try to establish which, if any, of the Wills - all with different dates and apparently extremely hard to decipher, covered in scribblings and crossings out - are valid under Michigan law.

Homemade Wills are notoriously fraught with issues and complications and it's worth betting that for Aretha's four sons, the legal road ahead is likely to be dogged by problems as they seek to determine just who gets what from their mother's estate.

What can go wrong with a handwritten Will?

Handwritten Wills are known as 'holograph' Wills.

In England and Wales, it is perfectly possible for them to be considered legally valid but only if they have been properly drafted and executed in accordance with Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837.

Basically, the Will must be signed by the person making it (the testator) in the presence of two witnesses (who can't be beneficiaries or spouses of beneficiaries) who each sign the Will in front of the testator.

There must be no evidence that the person making the Will lacked mental capacity or was under any kind of duress.

But often the biggest problem is that people who scribble their own Wills on the back of an envelope, or in Aretha's case in a spiral-bound notebook, tend to use vague and imprecise language when stating what they want to happen to their estate.

As a result, confusion and ambiguity often arise as the Will - lacking precise legal terminology - is left open to a number of different interpretations.

And who is to say which one is right? Especially when the confusion is compounded by hard-to-read writing, spelling mistakes and deletions and grammatical errors.

Getting it right

Often, when it comes to handwritten Wills, it is left up to the courts to interpret exactly what the testator intended - a stressful and expensive process for the family members left behind.

One case we reported recently Handwritten, smudged and confusing - but still a Will worthy of interpretation shows just how far the courts will go, using evidence to establish intention, to ascertain a testator's wishes and ensure an interpretation of the Will which will allow those wishes to be honoured.

Taking proper legal advice at the time of making the Will can easily prevent the problems that can arise with homemade, handwritten Wills and for that matter, with DIY wills. Click here to see what we have written on this subject recently.

A correctly drawn Will is an inexpensive way of avoiding difficulties for your relatives and friends in the future in the event of your death. It puts you in control of the final destination of your estate.

For help and advice about making or reviewing your Will please contact Wards Solicitors' Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity team.

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