Legendary television and radio host, Larry King, passed away at the end of January after a battle with COVID-19. He was 87 years old at the time of his death and had been in the midst of divorcing his seventh wife, Shawn King. Early reports indicated that the couple had done an estate plan together in 2015. If that were the case, it most likely would have directed how Larry's estate would be handled. However, in a recent twist, reports have emerged of a holographic will that Larry may have completed in October 2019, two months after he filed for divorce from Shawn. Per Investopedia, "a holographic will is a handwritten and testator-signed document and is an alternative to a will produced by a lawyer."
According to reporting by the Los Angeles Times, the holographic will leaves his estate to his five children (two of whom died in 2020) and omits his wife, Shawn. Unsurprisingly, Shawn and one of his children are contesting the validity of the newly unearthed will.
Are Holographic Wills Valid?
The question, in this case, is, are holographic wills valid and, if so, would it supersede the original estate plan the couple had in place? The answer is to be determined. Holographic wills are not permissible in all 50 states. If Larry King was domiciled in California, it is possible that the will would be considered valid because California does permit such wills. However, domicile alone is just the first hurdle. California law further requires that the provisions were written in the testator’s handwriting and that it had been signed and dated by the testator who’s at least 18 years old and of sound mind. These stipulations open the door to extreme scrutiny. The court will likely consider Larry’s mental capacity at the time, any potential undue influence by his children or other parties, as well as other factors.
Where Are Holographic Wills Accepted?
A state's probate laws determine the validity and treatment of all wills within its borders. As mentioned, holographic wills are not permissible in all 50 states and even the ones that do accept them do so to varying degrees. For example, some states require that the entire will be in the testator’s handwriting, while others only require that the material provisions (the property and who is to receive it) be in the testator’s handwriting. Some states require that the will be dated, while others do not. Some states recognize holographic wills that were prepared in other states, and others do not.
The following states accept holographic wills; however, as stated above, requirements vary: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
In New York and Maryland, holographic wills are only recognized if they are made by a member of the Armed Forces. In Maryland, a holographic will made outside of the United States by a member of the United States Armed Forces will be recognized until one year after the member is discharged from the service. In New York, such a will is valid for one year after the testator is discharged from the Armed Forces, or for one year after they regain a testamentary capacity, whichever happens first.
The Bottom Line
Larry King is just the latest example of a celebrity dying and leaving big questions about their estate. Laws vary among states, and they change all the time. Having an incomplete or outdated estate plan can be as risky as having no estate plan at all. When it comes to estate planning and probate, failure to comply with your state's specific (and most current) laws means that you are leaving your life, assets, and legacy to chance. The best way to ensure that your will and other estate documents are legal and will carry out your wishes is to work with an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney. Contact us today to have your current estate plan reviewed or to begin the estate planning process!