Standing on Ceremony: Will Signing

What involves two witnesses and a notary?  Your Will signing, of course.  Or at least that’s how we do things here at Altman & Associates.  And for good reason, too.  Ceremony surrounds the signing of a will because the document carries significant weight.  Without appropriate, legally recognized proof that your will is in fact your will, it becomes easy for your wishes for your loved ones and for your assets to become muddied by subsequent disputes.

Case in point:  The Thomas Kinkade estate.  You may have heard that Kinkade died at age 54 in April of this year.  Recently, an ugly fight for millions in cash and even more millions in artwork ensued in court between Kinkade’s wife, from whom he was separated, and Kinkade’s girlfriend.  The girlfriend presented two letters, handwritten in chicken scratch, indicating that she was meant to receive a significant portion of Kinkade’s assets.  Allegedly, the notes were written by Kinkade.  The news reports are not clear, but it sounds like Kinkade also had a more formal will and trust, because his wife is claiming that she is the executor of both.

Handwritten wills, technically termed “holographic wills,” are recognized in around half of the United States.  Some states, like Maryland, require that holographic wills be witnessed, just like typed wills, in order for them to be enforced. Annotated Code of Maryland, Estates and Trusts §§4-102, 4-103.  It seems like the Kinkade letters will be interpreted under California law, but suffice to say that the requirement, or lack thereof, for witnesses signatures is only the tip of the issue iceberg in this case.  If there is a formal Kinkade will or trust floating around, and if the letters are proven to be written by him, the question will be whether the letters can, if at all, alter Kinkade’s more formally documented wishes.

Common sense dictates that our assets are ours to do with what we want, even after death.  And while that is mostly true, it is important to realize that, typically, you cannot make those wishes known any way you would like.  In order for your estate plan to have the force of law, it must be created and documented in compliance with the law. That is why estate planning is key.  An estate planning attorney can help you properly document your wishes and will be there to help you properly revise those wishes if they change.  So, if you are sitting at home with your own Kinkade, or a handwritten letter disposing of your assets, call your attorney!  If we can help you in any with your will, revocable trust, or estate plan, contact us at (301 ) 468-3220, or email us at

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