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By John R. Merlino Jr. Esq.
Founding Attorney

Q: Is a do-it-yourself will valid?

With the exception of service members making a will during an armed conflict, New York does not recognize handwritten or oral wills. New Jersey may recognize a handwritten will if it meets certain requirements but will not recognize oral wills. In both states, you must be 18 years or older and of sound mind to make a will and among other things it must be signed by at least two witnesses to be considered valid.

Taking a chance on a DIY will being accepted for probate and surviving a will contest could be a costly mistake.

Estate planning attorneys in New York and New Jersey go to law school so they can provide laypeople with peace of mind and expert legal guidance to ensure, among other things that:

  • their property will be distributed after their death in the way they wish,
  • their minor children will have guardians appointed,
  • they will be protected financially and medically in the event they become incapacitated during their lifetime,
  • Medicaid planning is considered to protect their life savings in the event of a long-term disability care needs,
  • any cost-saving estate tax planning advantages will be utilized.

Estate planning lawyers help prevent costly mistakes, potentially saving both money and time in estate administration after death.

Finally, when the will is drafted by an attorney, it may be presumed that the formalities of the will’s execution were properly completed. This may make it harder for someone to prevail in a will contest whereas the presumption would not exist for a will prepared without an attorney’s involvement.

A good example of the headaches the do-it-yourself wills may cause can be found in the battle over the estate of the late Charles Manson.

After spending nearly 50 years of a life sentence in prison for “orchestrating” the high-profile killings of nine people, Charles Manson, notorious cult leader, died reportedly leaving at least two purported wills and four people fighting over his estate including:

  • a purported son allegedly conceived at a 1967 orgy
  • an acknowledged son
  • a grandson (the son of one of his two acknowledged sons) and
  • a long-time pen-pal.

Two known wills have reportedly been offered for probate. One from 2002, leaving everything to the pen-pal and specifically disinheriting the two sons he acknowledged and others. One of the sons is contesting the 2002 will as is Manson’s grandson (the son of his other acknowledged son who predeceased Manson).

There is also reportedly a 2017 will offered by a man claiming to have been fathered by Manson at an orgy that reportedly leaves the entire estate to him.

Reportedly, neither will was prepared by an attorney and each contains issues with validity.

Recently, the acknowledged son’s and the purported son’s claims have allegedly been withdrawn and/or dismissed leaving the pen-pal and the grandson in the fight for now. The estate litigation caused by these homemade wills may continue for years.

If you need assistance with an initial estate plan, or would like to modify an existing one, the estate planning attorneys at Merlino & Gonzales can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout New York and New Jersey in all aspects of estate planning and a real estate law.

About the Author
John is a fierce advocate and the office guru for problem-solving and brainstorming. He guides clients through every stage of a real estate transaction from offer to contract, navigating through nerve-shattering home inspection and title clearance concerns, maintaining constant contact with lenders, conducting the actual closing, and continuing to advise clients with regard to any post-closing concerns.  John brings a practical and fair-minded approach to the process which has earned him the respect of his clients and peers.