Writing a will or creating a more involved estate plan is something few people do. Even those in California with significant assets, such as celebrities, often put off the important task of ordering and preparing their estates until it is too late. One critical aspect of an estate plan is ensuring the documents are safe and the testator’s plans are clear and free of controversy. This is not always as easy as it seems, and some controversies end up going to probate litigation.
Recently, the country music world lost an icon when Billy Joe Shaver died at the age of 81. Known as an outlaw in his life and in his music, Shaver wrote hit songs for himself and the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. In fact, soon after Shaver’s death, Willie Nelson’s nephew, Fred Fletcher, claimed to have a handwritten will signed by Shaver, leaving Fletcher all his valuables and future profits from all his music.

What about the other wills?

Shaver apparently executed a will in 2000, leaving his entire estate to his 81-year-old sister. A few years later, he changed his will to leave everything to his sister’s son. However, Fletcher, who worked with Shaver and owned a recording studio with his famous uncle, claims Shaver wanted him to continue managing his music business. The attorney who drew up the previous two wills died earlier in the year.
In California and some other states, holographic, or handwritten wills, may be valid in probate court. However, when previously executed wills exist, it is likely the dispute will result in probate litigation. When family members have much on the line, having skillful and relentless legal representation can make all the difference in the outcome.