A hearing is scheduled for June of 2019 to determine if handwritten wills found in Aretha Franklin’s estate are valid.

Aretha Franklin died in August of 2018 but her estate is still being contested in court. Franklin is one of a handful of famous musicians who have died in recent years without a valid will in place. Recently, family members uncovered three handwritten wills among Franklin’s belongings. According to NBC News, a hearing this month will determine whether the documents are valid. The results could significantly impact the rights of her beneficiaries.

Handwritten Wills in Washington

Handwritten wills are otherwise known as holographic wills. Whether they are valid in probate court depends on where the person creating it lives. Laws in roughly half the United States permit holographic wills. There are generally additional and often differing requirements that must also be met.

Franklin resided in Michigan at the time of her death, which places few restrictions on holographic wills. According to Washington State estate planning attorney William S. Hickman at the law office of Hickman Menashe, P.S., handwritten wills are valid in our area. This is provided they meet other requirements under Chapter 11.12 of the Revised Code of Washington, which includes:

  • The will must be signed by the testator;
  • It must be signed in the presence of two witnesses;
  • The witnesses must sign either the will or a separate affidavit;
  • Sometimes, to make the will “self-proving,” the witnesses sign twice. The second signing is an “attestation,” which states all of the testimony that would be required to find that the will is valid. (Sometimes, witness signatures on the attestation section are notarized. However, notarization is not required.)

“If any of the above requirements are not met, the will is not considered valid,” says Hickman. “As a result, your loved ones could face lengthy and potentially costly proceedings in the Washington State Probate Court.”

The Importance of Having a Legally Valid Will


Hickman advises that in order to protect those you care about, it is vitally important to have a legally valid will in place. Without one, any property or assets you possess at the time of death are subject to the laws of intestate succession.

“This generally means that distributions will be divided between the legal spouse and any children the decedent has,” says Hickman. “It would leave out stepchildren, friends, and more distant family members. It also leaves out any charitable institutions that you might have wanted to benefit from your estate.” To ensure your will is valid, consult with an experienced Washington State estate planning attorney.