Do It Yourself Estate Planning?

               Some years ago a woman called me in distress. Her neighbor, Mary, had died leaving some handwritten “final instructions”. The instructions were entirely in Mary’s handwriting and were signed, notarized and dated. Mary and her late husband had both prepared handwritten wills leaving all their property to charity. After her husband’s death, Mary had crossed out some provisions and written changes in the margins. Mary had named her neighbor the executor of her estate, but Mary’s family had already begun to plunder her house. The neighbor had no idea if the “final instructions” was a valid legal document.

                 Are handwritten wills valid in Nevada? Yes, provided they meet the following requirements: they must be signed, dated, and the material provisions must be in the handwriting of the testator. We were able to probate Mary’s will, and her neighbor was appointed the representative of her estate. However, the estate was unnecessarily complicated by the way in which the will had been written. It took significant time and effort to petition the court for instructions as to the validity and interpretation of the will and of the changes made in the margins, which reduced the amount of money available to the ultimate beneficiary of the estate.

                 Many people are reluctant to do any estate planning because they do not want to face their own mortality. Others are reluctant to pay an attorney to prepare a will or trust because they think they can save money by writing their own will. While a handwritten or “holographic” will is valid in Nevada if it meets the statutory criteria, you may save your personal representative a great deal of trouble—and your heirs a great deal of money—if you pay a professional to do the job right.

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