Shafae Law

Shafae Law

Shafae Law is a boutique law firm providing comprehensive estate planning, trust, estate, probate, and trust administration services located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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What is... a Holographic Will?

This is part of an on-going series of blog posts titled the "What Is..." series, where we attempt to explain, in simple terms, common estate planning terms and concepts. To read other posts in this series, click here.

“I’m going on vacation next month, so I sent an email to my family to tell them my wishes in case something happens to me while I’m away.”

We hear this a lot. People want to make sure their family members know what they want to happen with their things or who they want to serve as a guardian for their kids, so they send an email. They put it in writing, thinking that it’s better than nothing. And, thinking that typing up something is more official than handwriting it.

Spoiler: handwriting a will is more likely to be legally binding than typing an email that isn’t signed. In fact, if it’s handwritten, signed, and dated, that’s better than typing it. This is known as a hand-written, or holographic, will.

In California, the legal requirements for a valid holographic will are: 1) that it needs to be signed;  and 2) the “material provisions” are in the handwriting of the individual. There is no requirement for it to be dated; however, if the holographic will is not dated and there is any doubt as to whether certain provisions are controlling, then the holographic will may be invalid to the extent of the inconsistency (e.g., no one is sure which document was drafted later in time).

Additionally, if there are any questions as to whether the individual lacked capacity, the will may be deemed invalid. For example, someone who is going into surgery might hand-write a will, but this may bring up questions as to whether that person was on medication or otherwise lucid enough to make the decisions at the time it was written.

Holographic wills were recently in the news as Aretha Franklin was not believed to have a will or a trust. Instead, it was discovered that she had written out her wishes by hand on several different occasions. Michigan, where Aretha Franklin resided when she died, like California, recognizes holographic wills. The question will be whether what she wrote was valid, and which handwritten document would be controlling.

Holographic wills serve a valuable function when your options are limited. If available, the best option is to talk to a lawyer about your wishes and ensure that you have a comprehensive estate plan that benefits you and your loved ones both in the case of incapacity and in the case of death. Call us for a free consultation.

Why Hire an Attorney Instead of an Online Provider?

Most estate planning attorneys frequently hear some form of this question: can’t I just do this myself online?

You certainly can create your estate plan yourself. And it’s pretty simple and affordable online.

In our experience, though, the most frequent response we get during a consultation is “I hadn’t thought of that!” To us, that’s what an attorney brings to the proverbial table. Attorneys ask questions to learn the nuances of your particular family dynamics, your goals, and any situations that you may not have thought about. Also, attorneys have the benefit of experience dealing with many other estates, and bringing that experience into planning your estate. This is not about the value of your assets, it’s about understanding goals, making sure you have documents in place that reflect what you want, applying current law, and avoiding potential pitfalls.

Some clients ask us to do a “trust review,” which means looking at the will or trust they already created because they want to modify some aspect of it. Clients are often surprised to see that the will or trust they created online isn’t going to do what they intended it would do. With estate planning documents, wording is the key to everything. With computer generated trusts and estate planning documents, a word or phrase in the wrong place can make the difference between your child being able to use her inheritance toward college education and having to go to court to “unlock” her inheritance because there was a badly worded restriction placed on it. There’s no such thing as a cut and paste estate plan; your life and your family are unique and your estate plan should reflect that.

We’ve also been on the other side of estate planning—the trust administration and probate side that takes place after someone has passed away. We know that you and your loved ones should have the space to grieve instead of trying to interpret the terms of a trust or navigating the probate process. We are here to ensure that you have the peace of mind that an expert is here to assist you through this tough time.

And we’ve been in the in-between—incapacity. We know what it’s like to walk into a bank or call the insurance company with your loved one’s estate planning documents to try to assist your loved one. We know the reality of what the bank or insurance company is going to say to let you get that done. An attorney ensures you have what you need so you can avoid frustration and don’t need to go to court.

Which gets us to one of the main components of hiring an attorney—the attorney-client relationship. When you retain an attorney, that attorney owes you certain duties. Some are the duty of confidentiality, the duty of loyalty, the duty of competent representation, and the duty of zealous advocacy. If a lawyer breaches any of its duties to a client, the lawyer can be held accountable. Lawyers are required to uphold very high standards when it comes to representing clients and their interests. When you use an online service, no attorney-client relationship is formed. No duties are owed to you. You (or your loved ones) cannot hold anyone accountable if things do not turn out how you wanted them to. All you have is a document that you drafted.

That’s the key: hiring an attorney gives you peace of mind through expertise and experience. An attorney will be there in times of crises, when an online provider will not.

We think that we would be those attorneys to give you peace of mind in your estate planning; and if you’d like to find out more, contact us for a free consultation.

Why Would A Married Couple Need an Estate Plan?

A friend of ours recently contacted us with a question that comes up frequently enough that we wanted to share it with you:

We are married and everything that we own is held jointly/as community property. We own a house, but we don’t have any kids and we don’t have debt. Do we need a will? Do we need a trust? Why?”

To the first question: Yes. You need a will whether you have a trust or not. (Click here to read our post explaining what a will does. And click here to read about intestacy.)

To the second question: Yes. Because….

  1. Incapacity. Incapacity doesn’t just mean “coma,” (although that counts too). It could be that you went into surgery and had a bad reaction to the anesthesia so you can’t quite function as you ordinarily would. Or, it could be dementia. It could be temporary, it could be permanent. But a will doesn’t let you address incapacity situations. A trust allows you to plan for incapacity. It allows you to plan for who will take care of your assets and use your assets for your benefit when you are still living. Just because your spouse is on title doesn’t mean your spouse has all the necessary authority to care for you in the event of your incapacity. (Click here to read our previous post explaining incapacity.)

  2. Contingency planning. Wills do not address all contingencies. But trusts allow for lapses and contingency planning. What if your spouse becomes incapacitated after you do? What if your intended beneficiary is still a minor (younger than 18 years old)? What if your intended beneficiary has a substance abuse or gambling issue later on? What if your intended beneficiary has special needs and requires means-tested government assistance? What if your beneficiary predeceases you? These issues can be planned for in a trust in advance.

  3. Probate. You’ve probably heard the term “probate” with some negative connotation. (Click here to read our previous post explaining probate.) If you have a trust, you avoid probate. Probate takes about 18-24 months; it’s a public proceeding; and it’s expensive.

So even if you are married and hold everything jointly, that may only ensure that your spouse receives your assets upon your death. But so many other scenarios can occur. We might recommend you consider a trust given your situation and desires. All of our recommendations depend on your specific family and estate planning goals. To ascertain what is best for you we would need to meet with you, in a free consultation, to understand your goals, assess and explain your options, and provide you with a recommendation tailored to your situation. Call or email us today.


➤ LOCATIONS

303 Twin Dolphin Drive
Suite 600
Redwood City, California 94065

12100 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 800
Los Angeles, California 90025

 

Office Hours

Monday - Friday
9AM - 5PM

☎ Contact

info@shafaelaw.com
(650) 389-9797
(310) 526-0298