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Do-it-yourselfers Beware!

“I want to talk to you today about how not to make a will, or as our parents always taught us, to learn from other people’s mistakes. Hi, I’m Kent Berk. I am an attorney at the Scottsdale, Arizona law firm of Berk Law Group, where we handle probate, trust, estate, and other types of litigation cases, here in Arizona.

I want to talk today about the case involving the estate of Jones. Here there was a girl, Elisa, who was born and after she was born, her mother died, and she was adopted out. A few years after she was adopted out, her natural grandmother found her. They established contact and then had a very close relationship for the rest of Jones’, her grandmother’s, life.

Well before Jones died, she typed up a will on her computer and then printed it out, made some handwritten changes. Ultimately, filled it out to where Elisa was supposed to inherit 25 percent of the grandmother’s property, out in Lake Havasu City. Elisa presented the will to probate court and the grandmother’s sister objected and said that the will wasn’t valid.

The court ultimately found that because the grandmother only signed the will and there was only one notary, not two witnesses as required by Arizona law, that it was not a valid will, under Arizona law. As a result of which Elisa was not entitled to any benefits under this partially typed and partially handwritten will. Next, Elisa argued though, because part of the will was handwritten that it was a valid holographic will, under Arizona law.

The court rejected that argument as well, finding that in order for it to be a valid holographic will, the will has to be signed and all of the material provisions have to be in the handwriting of the deceased, in this case, the grandmother. Because here the material terms were typed, not handwritten by the grandmother, the court found it was not a valid holographic will.

The court ruled that the grandmother Jones died intestate, meaning without a will, as result of which her next of kin or heirs or descendants were entitled to take the grandmother’s estate.

The court had to then address whether Elisa, the natural granddaughter was a legal heir of the grandmother. The court found unfortunately, that Elisa was not the legal heir of the grandmother because she had been adopted by her adoptive parents and that when there’s an adoption that severs the ties for inheritance from the adopted child’s parents, in this case Elisa’s parents and her natural grandmother.

As a result of which Elisa was not entitled to any share of Jones, her grandmother’s estate. That’s really unfortunate because it was clear from the court case that the grandmother really loved Elisa and wanted Elisa to inherit a part of her property.

Now, being a litigator, of course, I’m telling you this because I want you to go and see an estate planner in order to avoid the same types of problems that Elisa suffered here, where she was unable to inherit any part of her grandmother’s estate because of the simple mistake in not having two witnesses sign or in having the grandmother fill out the whole will in her own handwriting.

If you ever do have any probate, trust or estate questions or disputes, you can contact us through our website or don’t hesitate to give us a call at 480‑607‑7900. Thank you.” – Kent Berk