A will ensures that when the time comes, your estate planning will be managed per your final wishes. Without one, your children and grandchildren could end up in an estate battle. Should you pass intestate (without a will), the courts get involved and assets get distributed. This is according to a myriad of state laws, a stressful process that impacts all those you leave behind.

There’s no greater example of this than the estate of R&B legend Aretha Franklin. Her passing prompted a years-long legal battle amongst her family that illustrates why it’s so important to manage formal estate planning.

The Aretha Franklin Estate Battle

Passing in 2018, the Queen of Soul left her family in a legal quagmire. They initially believed she left behind no will. According to estate law, that meant her assets would likely get split among her sons. But someone eventually discovered more than one handwritten document concerning her last wishes in the singer’s Detroit home. Two docs were wills handwritten four years apart. They created a riff as the family argued about which one was authentic. 

There were wills and paperwork, all had revisions and notes in the margins concerning inheritance terms and how they impacted beneficiaries. Franklin obviously had varying ideas about how to manage her estate. Unfortunately, she never finalized anything legally or properly. 

Without proper estate planning, the survivors reluctantly turned to the courts to help determine which will be valid.

Earlier this year, a jury agreed the newer document — written in 2014; found under a couch cushion in Franklin’s home — took precedence over the older one. (A decision not unusual in these matters.)

The Validity of Handwritten Wills

Each state has a set of guidelines based on specific laws for validating a will. In general, they require the document to have at least two neutral witnesses, the date, and all appropriate signatures. You may need notarization. It’s also a good idea to have a legal representative, the party who ensures that the will’s preparation and execution meet all obligations and avoid conflict.

Some states accept handwritten wills. Ohio is one of them. Ohio requires that the document is signed by the testator (the individual who made the will) or their representative (who doesn’t have to be a lawyer). That will also need the signatures of two competent witnesses. 

A holographic will is a handwritten will that meets all the criteria. To verify authenticity, the court may ask about witnesses and require testimony. That’s especially true if someone contests the document. The court will want authentication of the testator’s writing and signature. Depending on the circumstances, the court may want verification via identification by individuals familiar with the testator or through the expert testimony of a handwriting pro.

In Ohio, a holographic will has to satisfy the same conditions as a conventional document. Some attorneys may not support this document as they are difficult to validate before the court. These wills can also contain errors or lack clarity, all of which are pitfalls. These conditions can only undermine the deceased’s well-intentioned objectives.

Why You Want a Proper Will

With a will, there’s a clear statement of how asset distribution is to be administered. The document minimizes time in court and helps prevent time-consuming, costly disputes. In larger estates, a well-developed will may help reduce estate taxes. You can appoint an executor in the document, a trusted entity for ensuring your instructions get followed to the letter. If you do not, the court appoints someone for you, which may not be the ideal solution.

Many think wills and estate planning are only for the well to do. However, even if an individual has a modest estate and they die intestate (without a will), it can leave loved ones confused and scrambling as to what they should do. A simple will can be a detailed list of instructions that straightforwardly manage not just the future of your financial and personal affairs but the peace of mind of those left behind.

Last Thoughts

Many of us are understandably locked in the right now and not giving much thought to what could come tomorrow. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • If you were gone, who would you want to provide for and protect?
  • What do you have and who would you want to have it?
  • If there are minor children in your life, what would happen to them?
  • Whom do you trust to make sure there’s no conflict of interest in overseeing assets you leave loved ones?

These are basic questions everyone can ask because the answers are the beginning of a will’s foundation. You don’t need all the answers immediately, but the seeds build the focus for a proper will.

The idea of a will can be overwhelming. You might be hesitant to consider a future that’s distressing and potentially dark. But you should consider a future without you and what would happen too. That’s a good reason to think about estate planning. If you would like help creating an estate plan for you and your family, please contact Brenden Kelley Law at 216-644-3359.


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Explore our other Blog Posts on Estate Planning: Understanding Ohio’s Trust Landscape: A Look at 6 Popular Types and Empower Your Future: A Guide to Estate Planning

Additional Resource: FindLaw’s guide on the validity of handwritten wills provides a comprehensive overview of when and how a handwritten will might be considered valid, an essential read for understanding the complexities of estate planning without formal documentation​