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WWYD: Relative dying without a will

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Let's say that a close relative died but didn't leave a will. This individual did, however, leave a very clear note outlining who the estate should go to. By law, because this person died without a will, the entire estate goes to this person's parents.


The note makes it clear that the estate should not go to this relative's parents, but to your children instead.


Everyone has read the note and is aware of the individual's wishes.


Let's make this more interesting and say that each of your children would inherit over $100,000 if the last wishes expressed in the note are honoured. The death was very traumatic for your children and the money would be locked away in a trust fund to go towards university and/or a downpayment on a house.


So, if this was you and there was a big elephant in the room (Are you guys who are legally inheriting the estate going to honour the individual's last wishes or not?) - how would you approach it?

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The following situation occured not in my own family but a family very close to us:


The mother died first. She and her husband had a joint will and all of her estate went to him. Her husband passed away just a few years later. Before his death (but after his wife's) he changed the will to include someone outside the family.


When going through the things in the house, a single-page hand-written will of the mother's was found among her things. It was dated shortly before she died. The will was found by a court to be valid and it, in essence divided the estate in half with half being distributed according to the mother's hand-written will and half being distributed according to the father's updated will.


The mother's hand-written will had never been filed with anyone and there were several conditions that had to be proven in order for it to be valid. I can't remember exactly but it seems like it was things like the conditions under which it was found (to prove it was authentic), that is was reasonable to believe it was the mother's own hand-writing, and that it was dated. This one did state that it was a "will" but I am not sure if that was one of the requirements. There was quite the court case since the person outside the family named in the father's will was trying very hard to get the mother's will thrown out since the presence of that will cut her share in half.


I would recommend asking a lawyer as this was several years ago and I don't know how the laws vary from state to state. I just shared to let you know that it is very possible it could be found to be a valid will, even if only a handwritten note.

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Whether a handwritten, unwitnessed will is effective varies state by state in the US and by province in Canada. I found this site for you http://www.professionalreferrals.ca/2003/10/acceptable-forms-of-the-will-in-canada/


There are a lot of specifics, though, that will make a difference. Does the letter identify itself as a will? Is it signed? Does it repeal all past wills, etc.


You need to take the letter to an attorney.


What a crying shame that this person didn't just make a legitimate will.

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There is a solid chance that the note would be considered legally valid. My lawyer definitely seemed to think so when we asked similar questions when we were making our wills. It would be a lengthy process in probate, but if you can show that this was the deceased intention the courts would most likely honor it.


The first thing I would do is make the lawyer who is handling the decease aware of the note. That binds the lawyer to a legal process and will hopefully prevent the person controlling the $$ from disposing of it all before the question can be settled.

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Definitely see a lawyer. My step-dad died and his girlfriend produced a hand written list of where he wanted things to go. It didn't hold up at all. It wasn't a hand written will though, more like a planning list. He had fairly recent changes to his insurance beneficiaries that did not line up with the list, and so the list was tossed out. Anyway, it does vary by state, and even by situation.

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I'm sorry for your loss; You need to see a lawyer. As you can see from the variety of response, different states and provinces have different rules for what makes a will. If you can't afford an attorney, then at the very least you should show the note to the probate administrator.


Where did the deceased reside? Where did he write the note? Did he sign and date it? Does it state that it is a will or is it more of a planning note? It is a shame that he never made a formal will. I don't want to encourage you too much, BC doesn't allow for holographic (unwitnessed) wills and is pretty strict about it. There are a few exceptions (which is why you should take the note to someone)

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