Author: Law Office of Andrew Szocka

Why to Avoid Handwritten Notations on Your Will

When you decide to make changes to your will, handwriting them in on the will document may seem like the easiest way to do it. But making handwritten notations on your will could invite a lot of confusion and not convey your wishes the way you wanted.

What’s Wrong with Handwritten Notations?

In some states, such as Illinois, entirely handwritten wills are not valid unless they are signed by two witnesses and meet all other legal requirements for wills. Handwritten changes to a will might not be recognized at all by judges in Illinois. The same is true in some other states. Depending on the state in which a will is probated, handwritten notations could have no effect at all – the court would simply ignore the handwriting. Or the court may ignore the will altogether and award the estate to the closest living relative.

The laws disfavor handwritten notations because they are hard to read and because it is difficult to prove that the testator wrote them. Unfortunately, other people than the testator might have added notations on the will that favor themselves.

What Should You Do Instead of Making Handwritten Notations?

In Illinois, it is a good idea to avoid handwriting your will altogether. You can have a lawyer prepare a simple typed will that expresses all your wishes. That way, you can have peace of mind about your estate.

If you want to make changes to your will, you have two good options. You can make a new will that revokes the old one and destroy all copies of the old will. Or you can execute a “codicil” – a document that amends the old will to include new information. You must have your codicil properly executed with witnesses just like a will.

Put simply, handwritten notations in a will are a very risky idea. If you want to make sure that your wishes are carried out, making changes through a witnessed codicil or making a new will are better ideas.

Want to start planning your estate? Local attorney Andrew Szocka, Esq. provides thorough and speedy estate planning help in the Chicagoland area. To schedule a free initial consultation, visit the Law Office of Andrew Szocka, P.C. online or call the office at (815) 455-8430.

If You Destroy Your Will, Do You Revoke It?

When you decide to destroy your will, you might wonder if this act has the effect of legally revoking the document. But if you have multiple copies of the will, how would others learn that you decided to revoke it? This question raises some important issues about making copies and then destroying a will.

Destroying a Will

People who decide that they no longer want their wills to have legal effect often choose to destroy the unwanted wills. They may plan to make a new will or simply let the laws of intestate succession take effect.

There are several ways to destroy a will: burning it, tearing it up, or shredding it, for example. Doing any of these things has the legal effect of revoking your will – meaning a court should not rely on it for directions on distributing your estate. You also could revoke a will by stating in your new will that the old one is invalid, by writing “I revoke this will” on the document and sign it, or by signing and having witnessed a new document stating that your old will is revoked.

What If There Are Multiple Copies of Your Will?

If there are multiple copies of your will, you should attempt to destroy all of them to effectively revoke the will. Otherwise, someone may take a copy of the old will to the probate court later on. Courts sometimes accept copies of wills when the original is not available. If no one knows that you intended to revoke your will by destroying the original, your true wishes may not get carried out. The court may distribute the estate according to the old will.

Because of the potential problems with revoking multiple copies of a will, it is a good idea not to share copies of your will. Anyone who receives a copy could make multiple copies without your knowledge. If you do give out copies, make sure you keep track of who receives them. Also, consider only giving copies to people who do not benefit from the will (your lawyer and your financial advisor, for example). When you do make a new will, alert the people with copies right away.

Want to start planning your estate? Local attorney Andrew Szocka, Esq. provides thorough and speedy estate planning help in the Chicagoland area. To schedule a free initial consultation, visit the Law Office of Andrew Szocka, P.C. online or call the office at (815) 455-8430.

Does Signing a New Will Revoke Your Old One?

When your wishes change, you may want to sign a new will and revoke the old one. But you should know how to properly make your new will so that it has legal effect.

Revoking an Old Will

There are several different ways to revoke a will, one of which is making a new will that contains a sentence saying your old will is no longer valid. The other methods of revoking a will are:

  • Destroy the will document (shredding, burning, or tearing it up are acceptable)
  • Instruct someone else to destroy the document
  • Write a new document stating that you revoke your old will and have it properly witnessed
  • Write something like “I revoke this will” on your old will and sign it

People choose to revoke their wills for many different reasons. For example, your wishes about who receives your property might change, or you might have a major life event happen (marriage, divorce, etc.).

Keep in mind that if you do revoke your will without creating a new one, the court will divide your estate among your relatives according to the order of intestate succession. Usually that means spouse, children, and other close relatives receive your money and property.

Making a New Will that Revokes the Old One

When you sign a new will, it should include a specific sentence that states that this new will revokes your old will. It is helpful to include the date of the old will or otherwise describe it in the sentence. If a lawyer prepares your will, make sure he or she includes that sentence.

If your new will does not include that sentence for some reason, the court will most likely compare your old will and your new will. Any differences in the new will should take effect, disregarding what it says in the old will. 

Finally, you should know that it is often better to make a new will than make changes to your old will. You cannot simply write the changes on the document – you need to prepare and have witnessed a separate document called a codicil. When you have significant or many changes, preparing a new will could be best. A lawyer can help you prepare a legally binding will that expresses your wishes.

Want to start planning your estate? Local attorney Andrew Szocka, Esq. provides thorough and speedy estate planning help in the Chicagoland area. To schedule a free initial consultation, visit the Law Office of Andrew Szocka, P.C. online or call the office at (815) 455-8430.

Locating the Will and Beginning the Estate Administration Process

After a loved one passes away, you and your family may need to locate the will and begin the estate administration process. This could seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, if you are not the executor, it is not your job to do anything besides alert the court if you find a will.

Finding the Will

Your loved one could have left a will almost anywhere – in a safe deposit box, with a lawyer, among other important paperwork, or in a box under the bed. Ask family members if the deceased person ever mentioned a will (or mentioned not making a will). Look for contact information of an estate planning attorney or other trusted professional who may have the will.

If you find a will, you, the executor, or another family member need to alert the probate court that the will exists. (Sometimes, if the estate is small enough, this is not necessary – talk to a lawyer to learn more.) The will should list an executor that the loved one has chosen to distribute his or her estate. Once the probate court learns of the will, a judge should appoint the estate executor to gather and distribute the estate.

If you cannot find a will or believe that the deceased person did not make one, don’t worry. The estate may be small enough that family members can distribute it themselves, or you may need the probate court to appoint a personal representative in lieu of an executor.

The Estate Administration Process

During the estate administration process, the executor or personal representative gathers all assets that belonged to the deceased person. He or she must list the assets and their values for the court. The executor also identifies and locates heirs. Once the court approves, the executor can distribute estate assets to the heirs in the manner explained in the will or prescribed by law. This is often referred to as “probating the will”. The executor also handles filing and paying taxes, and he or she helps meet any other legal requirements or resolve any disputes that arise.

Executors often need help from probate lawyers to handle court appearances and filings. If you have been appointed executor and are in over your head, reach out to a local lawyer for assistance.

Need help administering an estate? Local attorney Andrew Szocka, Esq. provides thorough and speedy estate planning help in the Chicagoland area. To schedule a free initial consultation, visit the Law Office of Andrew Szocka, P.C. online or call the office at (815) 455-8430.

What Are the First Steps to Take After a Loved One Dies?

After a loved one dies, your first thoughts are probably not about his or her estate plan. But it is important to take certain steps soon after the death in order to protect the estate. These steps include making funeral and burial arrangements, locating the will, and maintaining the estate’s value.

What Should You Do First?

When someone passes away, you should not immediately start taking items from their home or distributing their estate. There is a legal process to follow for estate distribution, and violating it can get you in trouble. Instead, first focus on funeral and burial arrangements.

The deceased person may have had specific wishes surrounding organ donation, anatomical gifts, funeral arrangements, and burial or cremation. You and other people close to the loved one should look for a document that lists these wishes. It may be a will or a separate piece of paper, and it may be with other important documents, with the person’s lawyer, or in another safe place. Sometimes, people include wishes about organ donation and anatomical gifts in their health care directives too. If you find a document listing these wishes, then notify family members and do your best to carry out the wishes.

Looking for the Will

In addition, you and others close to the deceased person should look for his or her will. Again, it might be in a safe place like a safe deposit box or with a lawyer. You may not be able to gain access to the safe deposit box right away without help from the probate court.

If you can’t find a will, don’t stress out. Sometimes wills are difficult to locate, and sometimes people do not make wills. Again, you should not start distributing the deceased person’s property. Talk to an estate planning and probate lawyer instead for help beginning the estate administration process.

Maintaining the Estate’s Value

Finally, you can take important steps towards maintaining the estate’s value. This may involve tasks like keeping an eye on the loved one’s house or caring for a child or pet. You may receive reimbursement from the estate later, and you will help out enormously until the executor or personal representative of the estate can step in. Once the executor is located and takes charge, he or she will handle finances, maintaining property, and other needed tasks.

Not sure what to do after a loved one’s death? Local attorney Andrew Szocka, Esq. provides thorough and speedy estate planning help in the Chicagoland area. To schedule a free initial consultation, visit the Law Office of Andrew Szocka, P.C. online or call the office at (815) 455-8430.