Thy Will Be Done: What Makes a Nevada Will Legal?
Aretha Franklin knew how to perform music, but she may not have known much about probate law. If she did, she may have formalized her estate plans instead of writing them on a piece of paper that ended up under a sofa cushion.
Without a will, your property passes to your heirs (i.e., your next of kin, or closest relatives), as determined by state law. If this isn’t what you want, at a minimum, you need a valid will to be executed. We can help you plan your estate, including creating wills, so your estate planning objectives are achieved after you pass away. Learn more by talking to a Las Vegas estate planning attorney at LKP today by calling 702-333-1711.
Aretha Franklin’s Will
Aretha Franklin was one of the most influential singers in modern music. She was a musical prodigy at a young age. She suffered career ups and downs. Over her lifetime, she earned 18 Grammy awards and the nickname: Queen of Soul. Franklin died in 2018 in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 76.
After she died, her family didn’t think she had a will, according to the New York Times. In 2019, two handwritten documents were found at her home. One was in a locked cabinet, the other was in a spiral notebook under a couch cushion.
Neither was prepared by a lawyer, and neither had witness signatures, though the first one found was notarized. Both detailed her assets but allocated them differently. Since neither were traditional wills, and both were in Franklin’s handwriting and signed (a smiley face and Franklin’s last initial were deemed her signature), they were considered “holographic” wills.
Five years after her death, a jury recently decided the document found in the sofa was Franklin’s legitimate holographic will, and was accepted by the court and admitted to probate.
A Holographic Will Isn’t a Hologram
There’s more than one way to create a legally acceptable will in Nevada. A holographic will is the less formal of the two, so it’s easier to create, but, as in Franklin’s case, it opens up more potential bases for a challenge.
Anyone older than 18 and of sound mind can create a will. Under Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 133.090, a document will be considered a valid, enforceable holographic will when it’s:
- Signed by the person making the will (the testator)
- Dated by the testator, and
- The material portion, where the testator disposes of property and names beneficiaries, is in the testator’s handwriting
The signature need not be notarized or witnessed, but as noted above, the required elements must be in the testator’s handwriting. If any of these requirements are not met, it will not be validated by a Nevada court, and it won’t be admitted to probate. Generally, holographic wills are challenged by potential beneficiaries more often than wills prepared more formally by attorneys.
More Formality When a Will Is Created Means Less Time and Expense During the Probate Process
NRS 133.040 states that if the will isn’t holographic or in an acceptable “electronic will” form, such will is invalid unless it is signed by the testator (or someone other than the testator at their express direction), and is attested by at least two competent witnesses who sign their names to the will in the testator’s presence.
The point of having witnesses watch you sign your will is that they can testify as to what happened if the will’s validity is questioned, including that:
- They heard you declare the document is your will
- They witnessed your execution of the will in their presence
- You requested the witnesses to sign the will as witnesses, and
- You were of full age and appeared to be of sound mind and memory when signing the will
NRS 136.190 provides that a holographic will “may be proved by authentication satisfactory to the court.” The court must see evidence that proves that the testator wrote the will. This usually requires affidavits from those familiar with the testator or a handwriting analysis from an expert. This process can be expensive and time-consuming.
However, if the will complies with NRS 133.040, it can be “self-proved” by a declaration or affidavit of the witnesses, attached to the will, describing what they saw. And if self-proved, the witnesses need not testify in court.
Contact an Estate Planning Lawyer in Las Vegas
While having a will (even a holographic will) is better than not having one, there are even better options in estate planning, such as a living trust.
LKP are highly experienced estate planning attorneys in Las Vegas who plan estates for clients like you throughout Nevada. If you or someone you know would benefit from estate planning in Nevada, whether in Las Vegas, Carson City, or Reno, contact our estate planners for a free consultation by filling out our online contact form. Or call LKP at 702-333-1711 to speak to a Las Vegas, Nevada, estate planning lawyer experienced in estate planning and executing legal documents.
Attorney Kennedy Lee practices in all aspects of trust and estate law. He views all legal issues from multiple angles (e.g. from litigation to administration point of view) to provide a higher quality of service to our client.