Is Your Unfinished Estate Plan Enforceable?

A decision that came out of the Michigan Court of Appeals late last year generated a lot of talk in legal circles.  In the case of Attia v. Hassan the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that an unsigned will could be admitted to probate.  “Probate” is the act of proving that a written instrument purporting to be a person’s will was executed in accordance with legal requirements and proving its validity. More generally, it refers to the process of settling an estate of a deceased individual.  To learn more about probate, check out our newsletter here.   In Attia, the decedent, Sabry Mohamed Attia, executed a will on July 8, 1986, and executed codicils (amendments) to the will on February 17, 2009, and February 1, 2013. Following his death, the 1986 will and amendments were submitted to probate.  An objection was filed based upon the existence of the draft of will that had not been signed.    The objection alleged that Attia changed his estate plan during a meeting with his attorney.  It alleged that he directed his attorney to draft a new will and that he had arranged for the execution of the will on the same day he died.  Initially the lower court rejected the unsigned will.  The court of appeals, however, relied on a prior decision by a court in New Jersey and reversed this decision.  The Michigan Court of Appeals held that Michigan law “permits the probate court to admit a will without a signature to probate if the proponent of the will establishes, by clear and convincing evidence, that the decedent intended the document to constitute his or her will.”So what is the moral of the story?  One could be that if you don’t get your will signed before you die, there may be room for your family to get your last wishes enforced, but not without costly court intervention.  The better moral is to understand that your estate planning documents, to be clearly enforceable, should be signed in accordance with the law of your state.  Sometimes life, or death, intervenes in an unexpected or untimely way.  This appears to have been the case for Mr. Attia.  But, those situations are unique and every effort should be used to avoid them by moving forward in a timely way to complete your estate planning.