A will is a formal document. California law requires a will be typewritten and signed by two competent witnesses. There are exceptions to this rule, but it is generally a bad idea to try and take advantage of them. A recent case from Arizona illustrates the potential pitfalls of trying to prepare your own will without the help of a qualified estate planning attorney.
Court Case in California
An Arizona woman died in 2012. The previous year, she began drafting a last will and testament on her computer. One of the beneficiaries named in the draft will was the woman's natural granddaughter. The use of “natural” here is significant, because the granddaughter was actually adopted after her birth mother—the woman's daughter—passed away. Grandmother and granddaughter later met and formed a close relationship.
The woman eventually made handwritten revisions to the typed draft of her will and signed it before a notary in July 2012, shortly before her death. The woman's sister then moved to open a probate estate. Although she acknowledged the existence of the 2012 document purporting to be her sister's will, she maintained it was invalid as it was never properly witnessed. The granddaughter objected, arguing it should be treated as a valid “holographic will” under Arizona law.
The Arizona courts disagreed. In a May 2015 decision, a three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court's finding the purported holographic will was not valid. A holographic will normally means the document is entirely in the handwriting of the person making it. Arizona's Supreme Court has recognized an exception for preprinted will forms filled out by a testator, but that was not the case here. The fact the deceased woman made handwritten revisions to a document she partially drafted on her own computer negated its potential status as a holographic will.
The appeals court also rejected the granddaughter's argument that even if the will is invalid, she was still entitled to a share of her grandmother's estate under Arizona intestacy law. As noted above, the granddaughter was adopted, which means as a matter of law, she was no longer related to her natural grandmother and thus had no right of inheritance. The fact she had a “close relationship” with her natural grandmother was legally irrelevant.
Get Help In Drafting Your Will
Although this was an Arizona case, the legal lessons are equally applicable in California. A last will and testament should be typewritten and witnessed by at least two other persons. Holographic or handwritten wills may be necessary in an emergency, but they are not reliable estate planning devices, especially if you wish to leave your estate to persons you are not legally related to. And while you may wish to write down ideas for drafting your will, the final document should be prepared in consultation with an experienced California estate planning attorney. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady in San Diego if you would like to speak with an attorney today about these matters.