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For those of you that might not read the entertainment section of the news daily, here is an update on Aretha Franklin’s estate and a short segue into Montana’s laws on wills.  The late great Ms. Franklin has had no less than three separate wills discovered in no place other than her couch recently.  The alleged wills were from various years, had multiple crossed out items, and all appear to be in her own writing.  They are said to have not been notarized, and it appears there were not any witnesses present at the time of their formation.  They must not be valid, right?  Wrong.  Under Michigan law (and Montana), if a certain portion of a handwritten will is found to be in the testator’s own writing, it may pass muster in court.  Verifying someone’s handwriting can turn into a huge dilemma in probate court, not to mention the legal battle that will likely ensue as a result of discrepancies in the papers. 

Montana Code Annotated 72-2-522 states that except as provided in 72-2-523, 72-2-526, 72-2-533, and subsection (2) of this section, a will must be in writing; signed by the testator or in the testator’s name by some other individual in the testator’s conscious presence and by the testator’s direction; and  is signed by at least two individuals, each of whom signed within a reasonable time after having witnessed either the signing of the will as described in subsection (1)(b) or the testator’s acknowledgment of that signature or acknowledgment of the will. However, it also states that a will that does not comply with the first subsection is valid as a holographic will, whether or not witnessed, if the signature and material portions of the document are in the testator’s handwriting.  Intent that the document constitute the testator’s will may be established by extrinsic evidence, including, for holographic wills, portions of the document that are not in the testator’s handwriting. Montana Code Annotated 72-2-522.

As you can see, although this law is great for those in the population that never managed to have a will formalized, it can also create many potential disputes.  The loss of a loved one is heartbreaking and traumatic.  Tensions and tempers escalate during this time period, and even the most peaceful siblings may begin to squabble over seemingly innocuous items in a moment of sentimentality.  Do not be the reason why Jack and Sally no longer come together over Thanksgiving meals.  The attorneys at Bryan, diStefano & Mattingley, PLLP are well-versed in all estate planning matters.  Call our office today, because even the queen of soul is subject to probate laws.