A Will Doesn’t Have to Be Signed to Be Valid in Tennessee
Do all Wills require a signature? This once ironclad requirement in estate planning may not be as strict as originally thought.
The Estate of Micki D. Thompson was opened on November 14, 2019 in Tennessee. A last will and testament dated July 25, 2013, along with two amendments dated July 23 2016 and March 3, 2017, respectively, were admitted into probate. On July 20, 2020, Albert Read Lewin filed a petition to probate a third codicil to the 2013 will. The Estate objected to this third amendment.
Micki D. Thompson, the decedent, wrote in a Bible:
July 22, 2019
Owner [of the Bible]: William Richard Brooks
“Albert Read Lewin – shall receive $3,000 per month for life – This is appreciation for his care and complete dedication to Micki and her welfare. He gave All in making her life.” There was no signature underneath this inscription. The Bible was found among Ms. Thompson’s other personal property. There was no dispute that this provision was in Ms. Thompson’s handwriting or that Ms. Thompson was of sound mind when she wrote this.
Tennessee law does not require a live witness to the signing of a handwritten will, but the signature and all material provisions must be in the handwriting of the testator and the handwriting must be proved by two witnesses.
The trial judge ruled that the writing did not meet these requirements as the handwritten amendment was not signed by Micki Thompson. The appeals court reserved the ruling, finding that Micki’s name within the body of the handwriting constituted a signature. While courts usually presume that an unsigned will is not a will, that presumption can be overturned if the facts demonstrate the testator’s intent.
Why Do Wills Need to Be Signed?
Signatures are typically required on documents for two purposes: First, to identify the person accepting the document and second, to prove that the person consents to the document. A signature may be necessary if the document was prepared by another party and the signatory is accepting the terms. However, signatures are not an explicit requirement to create a contract or even a will. The essential requirement for a contract is agreement between two parties while a will requires the decedent’s intent. A signature is the most common expression of agreement in a contract and intent in a will, but it is possible to have agreement or intent without a signature.
The signature requirement for a handwritten will is superficial sometimes because the decedent is the one preparing the will. A signature is not necessary to express intent in a handwritten will because the will itself conveys what the decedent wants.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Will Settlement Issues?
Estate planning can involve complex legal issues related to wills, trusts, estates, and estate planning. If you need to settle a will, you should consult with an estates attorney. A lawyer can help you with wills, trusts, and estate planning, and can represent you in court.