Wills Without Witnesses
This is the second article in the series, Fatal Estate Planning Mistakes, which focuses on "war stories" regarding common estate planning mistakes, as seen by a probate and trust litigator. These stories are meant to serve as a lesson for the average reader. If the reader sees this mistake below in his or her estate plan, please contact Robert Sewell, Esq., to discuss how to remedy the problem.
THE FATAL FLAW: Susie goes to the drug store and buys a will. She fills in the blanks on the will. The will calls for two witnesses for her signature and a notary. Susie believes that two witnesses are optional and chooses only to have one witness and no notary. In the will, she gives her entire estate to her daughter Janice and disinherits her son Victor (an addict that will use the money on drugs). The result is that Susie dies intestate, meaning she has no will or estate plan, because the will was not witnessed by two witnesses. Victor inherits equal to Janice.
THE REMEDY: Creating a will is a right given to you by the legislature. This seems counter-intuitive; however, because so much fraud and deception has been involved with transferring wealth at death, the legislature insists that for a will to be valid it must meet certain requirements. Foremost among those requirements is that the will be signed by the testator whose signature is witnessed by two witnesses. Attorneys have successfully argued that a will which has one witness signature and was notarized can be made to be valid in court. However, there is little case law to support that argument and it will be left to a judge to evaluate the facts. It is imperative to get two witnesses for every will. Further it is best to have that will notarized.
If your will lacks two witnesses, you should have the will reviewed by a qualified attorney to determine its validity.