Before word-processing programs or typewriters were ever invented wills were handwritten and as long as they meet all of the legal requirements stipulated by the state, those executed in this format continue to be valid. Nonetheless, writing your will by hand opens your estate to legal challenges unlike those faced by professionally-executed documents. By way of example, consider the case of the late famed broadcaster Larry King.
King passed on January 23, 2021, and when he did so he left a handwritten will bequeathing his entire estate to his five children. Shawn King, his wife who he was in the process of divorcing at the time of his death, was excluded despite an earlier, professionally-executed will naming her executor and sole trustee of the King Family Trust. King’s handwritten will is dated Oct. 17, 2019, two months after he filed for divorce; his “official” will, meanwhile, was prepared in 2015.
In Shawn King’s argument, the handwritten will is not sufficient to replace the earlier document and is no grounds upon which to revise Larry King’s previously-stated wishes. She claims that King’s son, Larry King Jr. exerted undue influence on his father and has a conflicting interest in representing his estate. As evidence, she points to having recently learned of a “secret account” out of which the elder King allegedly made various gifts, including $266,000 paid to King Jr. In addition, she claims that her estranged husband was “of questionable mental capacity” when he updated his final wishes as he had suffered a stroke a short time before.
As is standard in the case of a contested will, the fate of King’s estate will be settled in probate court. King Jr. has asked to be made a special administrator of the estate and that the court appoint new officers to run Larry King Enterprises and LK Productions. In her petition, Shawn King has responded, “Petitioner has never been involved in Larry’s career or business, and it would be highly inappropriate to place him in a position of representing Larry’s estate.”
Whether the late King’s handwritten will will hold up in court has yet to be determined. What is clear, though, is that the process promises to neither be simple nor expedient. Had the famed broadcaster simply opted to update his final wishes with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, his loved ones likely would not be stuck in such a difficult position. What is more, while a professionally-executed will comes at a cost, this would have been but a fraction of the legal and administrative expense of a contested probate hearing.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear that every adult needs to have basic estate planning documents in place, including a will. And while the tumultuous economic moment may make it tempting to seek out low-cost strategies for instituting such documents, more often than not these provoke unfortunate long-term economic consequences.
Whether you agreed with Larry King’s viewpoint or not, one thing we can all learn from the late broadcaster is that if you want your assets to end up where you intend, a handwritten will is not your best option.
For further advice on executing a will or to learn more about any other estate planning-related subject, don’t hesitate to call the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia at 770-822-2723 or contact us through our website.
Contact Attorney James M. Miskell