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Are handwritten wills valid in Colorado?

Estate planning can be tough to start. You may jot down some thoughts and wishes and then get distracted. It is important to recognize that handwritten (holographic) wills may not be legally binding and can lead to conflict.

Surprisingly, some well-known people have left nothing but a handwritten will. Aretha Franklin — known as the Queen of Soul — who passed away last year left no will. This left her family and friends confused and at odds about how to divide her massive estate and pay significant tax debt.

Three handwritten wills were eventually found hidden under couch cushions of her home, according to a Forbes article. Unfortunately, these documents didn't exactly provide further clarity.

The trouble with a handwritten will

Each state has its own laws regulating wills and trusts. These documents, which outline what an individual would like done with their estate, must adhere to state regulations or risk becoming unenforceable.

In Franklin's case, the wills are difficult to read and decipher. In addition, legal experts must review them and determine if they are binding under the terms of Michigan law. Not to mention, the fact that these handwritten wills were hidden leaves many questioning their validity.

This is a recipe for a lengthy legal battle. Family members and friends may argue over what the handwritten wills mean and what each person may believe she wanted. It’s a situation you can avoid with some planning.

The Colorado approach

With handwritten wills in the spotlight, you may wonder if they are acceptable in Colorado. Here's what you need to know:

  • A handwritten (holographic) will must be signed and dated by the person(s) making the will or by the person who was directed to draft the will - and - 
  • It needs to be signed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the will itself, or signed by a Notary Public. 

While state courts will recognize these types of wills, they are often difficult to decipher and contain ambiguous terms that lead to family conflict. In addition, the estate administration process can take longer to complete.

Avoid unnecessary confusion

Estate planning is a not a DIY project. Speak with an attorney who routinely drafts wills. This is the best way to identify potential issues and put strategies in place to avoid conflict. Regardless of your personal circumstances, it's always a good idea to have a will and it is a less painful process than many imagine.

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