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McClellan Legal LLC Estate Planning & Tax Assessment Blog

Friday, June 14, 2019

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Your Legacy: Learn from Aretha's Failed Plan

The world was in mourning last August when Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, passed away in her Detroit home. At the time, she was believed to have died intestate, or without a Will. However, just a couple of weeks ago, three different holographic Wills have surfaced. These Wills are said to consist of various edits, and the handwriting is being analyzed so her family may learn if Franklin herself was the author. Even with this analysis, some are doubtful that she is the author of the Will, had the mental capacity to write the Wills, and was not influenced to make any of these changes.

What is a holographic will, and are they acceptable in Pennsylvania?

A holographic Will is simply a handwritten Will. These Wills may be valid in Pennsylvania if the testator, who is the person writing the Will, signs it in front of two witnesses who are not involved in the Will (i.e. are not beneficiaries or fiduciaries). However, holographic Wills may still be contested in court if someone argues that the testator did not write the Will, have the mental capacity to write the Will, or if he/she was unduly influenced in any way. Furthermore, the Will may be contested if it conflicts with any prior Wills. Every Will should state that it is revoking any prior Wills and codicils.

The probate court will not accept a holographic Will if the court does not believe the Will to be valid. This means that the testator will be considered to have died intestate, or not having a Will. Any wishes the testator may have had in their Will will be invalidated, and instead, the court will have to allocate the inheritance according to state laws.

Yes, holographic Wills may be valid, but we highly recommend consulting with an attorney to ensure that your estate planning documents are properly drafted and executed.

What if I have a minor change to my will? Can I cross out or make notes on my Will?­

I recently had a client call and ask if she could cross out the name of one fiduciary and replace it with another. Again, the issue here is whether someone will contest the Will because of this change. Someone could claim that you were not the person who made this edit, you lacked mental capacity, or someone influenced you to make this change.

If you do have changes to make to your estate planning documents, we highly recommend seeking help from an attorney. You will want to ensure that these changes are done properly. You may want a new Will entirely or have an attorney draft a codicil, or addition, to your Will. Taking the time to speak with an attorney about your estate planning needs may save your family emotional distress and money in legal fees later when they probate your estate.

What happened in Franklin’s case is unfortunate, but not uncommon. If you wish to make changes to your estate planning documents, please consider consulting with an attorney, rather than drafting and/or editing your documents yourself. Also be sure to inform your executor(s) of the location of your original signed documents so these documents are easily accessible when they are needed.

If you need estate planning documents or have any changes to your current documents, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 610-444-5552. We are more than happy to assist you.


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McClellan Legal LLC is located in Kennett Square and serves clients throughout the areas of Avondale, Chadds Ford, Coatesville, Downingtown, Landenberg, Oxford, Phoenixville, Pottstown, West Chester, & West Grove.



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113 South Broad Street, Kennett Square, PA 19348
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