Do Courts “Respect” Handwritten Wills?

Why leave your estate subject to the whims of the court?

In Virginia, hand written wills are valid only if they meet all of the statutory requirements for execution of a valid will. The will must be:

  1. Written wholly in the handwriting of the testator (the person making the will);
  2. Will must be signed by the testator and two witnesses in the testator’s presence and in the presence of each other at the testator’s direction;

It is important to note that the validity of a will is determined by state law. Although it remains to be decided whether the recently discovered handwritten wills allegedly penned by the singer are valid in Michigan, they would not be valid in Virginia. The 2014 will does not appear to be signed by Franklin at the end of the document nor did two attesting witnesses sign the document.

At Zaremba Center, clients often come to us with handwritten wills or wills that were generated online, which often cause problems down the road during the probate process. The costs of remedying these issues typically far exceed the costs of a comprehensive estate planning package drafted by an attorney.

As a result of the handwritten wills, Franklin’s family is now involved in probate litigation. It is possible that the bulk of her assets will be spent on legal fees and court costs to decide whether the handwritten wills are valid and determine who is entitled to her property. Additionally, the Michigan court may find that the handwritten wills are not valid and the singer’s wishes regarding her property might not be honored.

This story highlights the importance of working with an estate planning attorney to ensure your estate planning documents are drafted properly so that your wishes are carried out in the event of your incapacity or death. If you need assistance with your estate planning, please contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys. My law practice is dedicated to all areas of estate planning Wills, Trust,  Medicaid and VA benefits planning, special needs planning, guardianship, probate, and trust administration.


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We've been putting together as many resources as possible so that we can continue to help:

  • If you’re a current client with a signing appointment or a prospective client with a consultation and would prefer that meeting take place in your own home, we can accomplish that with a little bit of pre-planning on our part and with the addition of a laptop, smartphone, tablet or other computer in your home to facilitate this virtual meeting. For those of you that need to sign legal documents, that too can be accomplished with the use of a webcam (FaceTime etc.), so that we can witness and electronically notarize all of your important legal documents.
  • We launched the rollout of our on-demand webinar early so that new clients and our allied professionals can view the important component parts of ‘an estate plan that works’ at their convenience.  That is available on our website.
  • Live video workshops will be produced as quickly as possible and certainly ahead of our previous schedule; we will keep you posted as these events become available. Given the ‘boutique’ nature of the firm, we rarely have more than ten people in our office including team members at any one time. During this period of ‘social distancing,’ we promise to have no more than 8 people at any time.   This allows us to comply with the Governor’s directive to limit in-person gatherings.
  • The best way to communicate with us is still by phone during regular office hours of 8:30 to 5:00, Monday through Friday, or, you can email any of our team members (that is, their first name followed by @zarembalaw.com).  We will respond to these emails as quickly as possible.
  • Please continue to follow the directives of our local, state, and federal agencies. For your health and in consideration of our team who is assisting you, if you’ve scheduled an office appointment or planned to drop off paperwork and are experiencing a fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath, please contact your primary care doctor for guidance and then our office to reschedule.

Thank you, Walt and the Zaremba Team

Update to our Process

The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has taken our entire country by surprise. We understand how difficult this time is for America’s businesses and families.  However, we believe it is vitally important that we make every effort possible to continue to offer solutions that avoid disrupting our important partnership with you, your family and friends.  As you know, estate planning is not something that should wait for a more convenient time, therefore the opportunity to address your important goals both during and after this crisis should not wait.  To that end, we have added the option of a ‘virtual consultation’ to our office process.  You will now have a choice of either meeting with us in our office or in the comfort of your own home.