Wills have been around far longer than word-processing technology and, of course, they were originally prepared by hand. It should come as no surprise, then, that handwritten wills continue to be valid in most states, albeit only when certain requirements are fulfilled. In Oregon, these requirements are (1) that a will be in writing, (2) be signed by the testator (or person making the will), and (3) be signed by two witnesses who saw the testator sign the will. While it is true that there is nothing complicated about these requirements, handwriting your will often creates more problems than it solves, which means it is an option best-reserved for emergency situations.
What Can Go Wrong with a Handwritten Will?
The short answer is: a lot. The recent passing of celebrated broadcaster Larry King is an illustrative example. King passed away at the end of January after battling Covid-19 and left a handwritten will detailing how he wished his assets to be distributed. Prepared in October of 2019, two months after filing for divorce from his wife, Shawn Southwick King, this will was intended to replace the estate plan the couple had written in 2015.
While King’s 2019 will complied with his home state of California’s probate legislation—and two witnesses had been present at the moment of signing—Southwick, who was written out of the new document, is nonetheless contesting its validity by claiming that the replacement will may have been written under questionable circumstances. Because King never finalized his divorce from Southwick—and because he had suffered a heart attack not long before handwriting his revised will—his to-be ex-wife’s objection may hold up in court.
Complications such as those facing the King estate are common when a will has been hand-written. The estates of Aretha Franklin and Tony Hsieh have likewise been mired in complications because they chose to write their wills by hand—and the reason has nothing to do with their celebrity status. All wills need to be admitted into court, and when a will does not comply with standard formatting and is not written in proper legal language, it is more vulnerable to challenges.
Beyond the requirements that a will be in writing, be signed by the testator, and be signed by two witnesses who see the testator sign, Oregon law also requires that the person writing the will have testamentary capacity, meaning they are 18 years or older and of sound mind. It is this latter point that threatens King’s estate and which frequently causes problems for people with handwritten wills. Without professional guidance, a will simply leaves more margin for misunderstanding. A will drafted by an attorney, other the other hand, is sure to meet court requirements.
Consulting an Attorney
Executing a professional will is relatively inexpensive. Estate administration is only a costly affair if no plan is drafted ahead of time because, inevitably, this leads to an extended probate process in which myriad fees pile up. Thus, it is always cheaper, in the long run, to plan with prudence and foresight.
If you are ready to execute your will or if you simply have questions about the process, do not hesitate to contact Caress Law either by calling (503) 292-8990 or using the contact form below.