Will my Hand-Written Will be Valid in California? Lessons from Aretha Franklin’s Estate

On Behalf of | Jun 21, 2019 | Estate Planning |

When music icon Aretha Franklin passed away in August of last year at the age of 76, she left behind an R & B legacy and an estate administration issue for her heirs.  Initially, it appeared the legendary singer died with a considerable estate, future royalties, and tax issues but without a will.  However, in May, three hand-written wills were located in her Detroit home.  Now, the probate court has to determine if these testamentary documents are valid according to Michigan law. In the meanwhile, disputes have arisen over whether Ms. Franklin intended a non-relative to administer her estate.  It could take months or even years to untangle the issues regarding the wills.  For California residents, the lessons from Aretha Franklin’s estate raises the question:  Will my hand-written will be valid in California?

Valid California Wills

According to California law, in order to be valid, a will must:

  • Be in writing and signed by the creator (testator) who is 18 years or older, be in the testator’s name by some other person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction, or by a conservator pursuant to a court order; and
  • Be witnessed by being signed, during the testator’s lifetime, by at least two non-beneficiary witnesses each of whom:
    1. being present at the same time, witnessed either the signing of the will or the testator’s acknowledgment of the signature or of the will, and


  1. understand that the instrument they sign is the testator’s will.

Hand-Written Wills

When a will is hand-written and signed by the testator, it is known as a holographic will.  In California, holographic wills do not have to be witnessed in order to be valid.  However, if the testator does not include a date on the document and there is doubt regarding the consistency of the provisions because of another will, the holographic will could be held invalid to the extent of the inconsistency until the date can be determined.  Additionally, as with any will, if it is established that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at any time during which the holographic will might have been executed, it could be held invalid.

Fortunately, California law provides different ways to effectuate a will.  However, there can be other issues which may interfere with your will during probate.  The best way to protect your assets and ensure your heirs received the inheritance you want is to consult with an experienced estate planning and probate attorney.  You and your counsel will be able to review your estate, identify issues, and prepare for potential complications.

At the Law Office of Alice Salvo, we are experienced California estate planning and probate attorneys with the knowledge and experience you need to plan for your estate and ensure your final wishes are honored.  Schedule a consultation today, so we can help you explore your options and make informed decisions. /


FindLaw Network