Len and Rosie: Is handwritten will good enough?
Len and Rosie

Len and Rosie: Is handwritten will good enough?

Tillem & McNichol

Len Tillem and Rosie McNichol

Dear Len and Rosie,

I am unmarried and I have no children. I own a home and a vacation rental. I have written a will in case I die unexpectedly.

Does a will have to be witnessed? If not, is it completely invalid?

Do I need an attorney to hold onto the will to make sure that it is implemented?

Is there any difference between having an attorney implement a will and having a brother or sister implement the will?


Dear Burt,

You may create your own holographic will that doesn’t have to be witnessed.

All you have to do is to write out your wishes in your own hand, and sign and date your will.

If you type out the will on a computer or typewriter, or someone else writes it for you, then to be valid you must sign your will before two adult witnesses, neither of whom may inherit from you upon your death.

But you get what you pay for.

After your death, your heirs will experience the joys of probate. If the value of your estate, before any home loans or other debts are subtracted, is worth $1.5 million, then your heirs may not be so happy to know that a probate attorney will earn a minimum of $28,000 in fees, set by California law.

The executor named in the will, or the administrator of the estate, will earn the same $23,000.

There may be extraordinary fees as well, and around $3,000 or more in various court fees, appraisal fees and a newspaper publication fee to provide the public with notice of the probate.

On top of that, it will take 9-15 months before the probate is over, assuming there are no difficulties or legal disputes.

Look at all the time and money you saved by making your own will!

If you want things to go smoother, and cheaper in the long term, then go see a trusts and estates attorney and look into creating a revocable trust.

You can create your own estate plan. But without reviewing it, we can’t tell you whether or not it will create the result that you want. So even if you do not want a trust, you should still review your will with an attorney.

There are many things you may not know how to deal with in an estate plan such as restrictions against gifts to caregivers, spendthrift heirs who are bankrupt or owe back child support, Special Needs Trusts for disabled beneficiaries, Medi-Cal estate recovery claims, Estate Taxes and Generation Skipping Transfer Tax, Proposition 13, and IRA beneficiary designations, to name a few.

That’s why we hesitate to tell anyone that they can create their own will, or even a trust to avoid probate, and expect everything to turn out the way they expect.

Experienced trusts and estates attorneys do a lot more than filing out forms. They know what questions to ask and the best way to translate a client’s desires into an estate plan that’ll work.

Len and Rosie

Len Tillem and Rosie McNichol are elder law attorneys. Contact them at 846 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, by phone at 707-996-4505.



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