I was contacted recently after a father passed away. The adult children were hoping to get their father's estate settled quickly and easily. They mentioned that their father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, that the diagnosis allowed only a short time to live, so he did a "quickie" Suze Orman will to specify how he wanted to leave his estate.
When I heard about the Will, I told myself I needed to see it. The son told me that the Will was three pages long. I said, "Hang up. Take a picture of each page and text them to me." He did.
Whenever I review a Will for the first time, I always look for two things. First, I confirm that the Will meets the validity requirements for a last will and testament. And second, I look at the actual words and terms used in the Will for bequests, appointments, and other ancillary provisions.
In general, it's pretty easy to make a valid will. But the trickery comes in using all of the right terms in all of the right places.
In this matter though, it took me about three seconds to determine that the Will was invalid.
In Louisiana, there are two types of Wills: olographic and notarial. The olographic will is entirely handwritten. This will was typed. The notarial testament is typically typed, but must be signed "at the end of the testament and on each other separate page." Of the three pages, only one was signed.
In addition, to be a valid notarial testament, the notary and two witnesses must sign a certain declaration that is inserted at the end of the testament. In this Will, there was no notary signature, just the signatures of two witnesses.
So, in about three seconds. I discovered two reasons that this Will is invalid. And yet, there was a third problem. For a notarial testament to be valid, the notary and witnesses must sign a declaration that is worded as described in our Louisiana statute. The declaration in the Will must be at least "substantially similar" to the declaration provided in the Louisiana statute. The declaration at the end of this purported Will was not substantially similar to the declaration provided by Louisiana law.
Since the Will was invalid, it didn't make sense to even look at the terms of the purported Will, since they would have no legal effect - at all. It's unfortunate that this man's final wishes to leave his legacy a certain way would not be followed. Instead, state law will determine who inherits his estate.
The moral of this story is that you should be careful about using the "do-it-yourself" estate planning tools that are out there. Many things can and do go wrong when you attempt to take shortcuts in the estate process.
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Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
Phone: (225) 329-2450