Lack of Formalities

Proper execution (signing) of a last will and testament and/or a trust requires that the will and/or trust be signed by the client, properly witnessed, and compliant with all statutory requirements. Having handled estate litigation for many years, the very first thing that any attorney reviewing a potential estate litigation matter will review is the actual will or the trust itself. The purpose is a simple one—to ensure that the document is facially valid. If a document is not properly signed, witnessed, and in some instances, notarized, and/or if there is some irregularity in the document, an issue of contest may arise. Moreover, even though a document may appear, on its face, to be valid and enforceable, inquiry of the witnesses and, where applicable, a notary, may reveal procedural defects that give rise to issues of contest. Even the slightest of mistakes in procedure may invalidate an entire estate plan. By way of example, in some jurisdictions, even if one of the witnesses to a will stepped out of the room momentarily while a will was being executed. The statutory procedural requirements for valid execution of a will must be followed to the letter of the law, without exception.

Searles, Sheppard & Gornitsky ensures strict adherence to the legal and procedural aspects of executing a will, trust, and other attendant documents prepared as part of any client’s estate plan.