One month after his death, celebrity talk show host Larry King is again making headlines. Shawn Southwick King, his widow who he was in the process of divorcing when he died, has gone to court to contest a handwritten will that leaves King’s $2m estate to his children. She is claiming that King was “of questionable mental capacity” when the handwritten will was signed in 2019, and that the will conflicts with a will he signed in 2015 in which she was named executor of his estate. The Kings have been married since 1997, and Larry King has been seriously ill and hospitalized multiple times over the past 2 years.
The will was written shortly after King was released from the hospital following a heart attack, and 2 months after he filed for divorce from his wife. The will divided his assets equally among his 5 children, 2 of whom died after the will was written but before King died. The Kings also had a prenuptial agreement in place.
A handwritten will, officially known as a holographic will, is not frequently used in Illinois because they lack the basic requirements to be admitted to probate. A holographic will is only legal if it complies with Illinois state laws, including the signature of 2 witnesses. A holographic will is not be recognized in Illinois unless it meets the witness requirements of Illinois law.
If a handwritten will is not recognized and no other legally executed will exists, your estate could fall under intestacy laws.
Here are 4 strategies to discourage challenges to your will.
1. Make sure your will is properly executed.
A knowledgeable estate planning attorney can ensure that the terms of your will are clear and comply with current laws. All lawyers do not have expertise in wills and estate planning, so make sure your lawyer has experience in estate planning in your state. For example, in Illinois, you must have two witnesses watch you sign your will in order for it to be valid.
2. Document your competency to execute a will.
Someone may allege that the estate owner lacked full mental capacity at the time he or she signed his or her will. An estate planning lawyer can help you show you were competent to draft your will by having a signed doctor’s statement of competency and having the will witnesses sign that you were “of sound mind and memory” when you signed your will.
3. Communicate your estate plans to your family.
When you sign your will, tell your family members and executor the terms of your will. If they understand the reasons behind your decisions and they have an opportunity to ask you questions, they will be less likely to contest the will – particularly if the rest of your heirs know why you made those decisions.
4. Keep your will current.
A will executed long ago that doesn’t take into account changes to your beneficiaries or your assets such as family births, marriage or divorces or the growth of a business, is more likely to be challenged. A regular review of your estate plan with your attorney will demonstrate the clarity of your intentions.
A death in the family is very stressful, and too often leads to family conflict that is preventable with a well-constructed estate plan.
An Illinois estate planning lawyer can protect your rights and your interests and work with you to prevent or minimize potential challenges to your will. Consulting an experienced probate, trust and estates attorney in Chicago or Lombard can give you advice and discuss your legal options. Contact the Estate & Probate Legal Group at 630-864-5835.