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A handwritten note locked up in a safe with clues for finding buried treasure – you’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds more like a mystery thriller than a Wills dispute.

But this is exactly what was revealed in a Victorian court hearing recently, where the court was asked to decide what to do with $50,000 of cash buried in someone’s backyard.

The woman who had left the money had both a formal Will, and a handwritten note in her bank safety deposit box, with instructions on where to find the money, and who she wanted to receive it.

The issue at hand is that the formal Will made no mention of the handwritten note, or the hidden money, which left the executor no option but to go to court for a ruling on how the cash should be distributed.

In this case, the court accepted that the note should form part of the Will and the instructions should be followed.

However, in other cases, courts have declared handwritten documents invalid.

Informal Wills: What are they?

Informal Wills can range from some of the below examples from real cases:

  • A note about a gift of cash on the back of an envelope, written by a hospital patient to his mother, ‘in case something happened to him’
  • Two handwritten pages that listed names and dollar amounts, and the names of intended executors
  • A handwritten ‘insert’ to a Will that claimed to amend the terms of that Will

And also include things like DIY kit or a templated online Wills that haven’t been filled in properly.

The Importance of a Lawyer-written Will

People often think they are saving money by not getting professional advice, but by drafting a Will yourself, there is always the risk not only that something will be missed, but that your wishes won’t be fulfilled.

If a lawyer or a court needs to be called in to interpret a Will, it can add extra time and cost to the process of sorting out the estate, and there is always a chance that your assets won’t be distributed the way you had planned.

Ultimately, your Will shouldn’t read like the Da Vinci Code with clues to secrets and hidden treasure.

Talk to a lawyer to get expert advice on how to make a valid Will that ensures your wishes will be followed after you’re gone.

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