My mother died a week ago today. She left a handwritten last will and testament in the family bible. We live in Tennessee. Is this document legal?

My mother and father were both named on the deed to the house and property. My father died in December of 1986. My mother made out this handwritten will in August of 2005. She left all property, house and contents to my two younger brothers who were both living with her at the time. Since then one brother died three years ago. But the other brother still lived with her and is still living in the same house. My questions are, if this will is legal, does my brother actually own the property now and will my mother’s creditors be able to lay claim to the property to collect any debt owed them?

Asked on June 4, 2009 under Estate Planning, Tennessee


B. B., Member, New Jersey Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

I'm not a Tennessee attorney, but my research suggests that your state, like most others, recognizes a "holographic" will, one that is entirely handwritten and signed, if two witnesses testify that it's her handwriting.  So it sounds like, if the handwriting can be authenticated, the will is valid.

If that's so, then the one surviving younger brother does indeed inherit everything.  But he doesn't technically own the property yet, someone will have to be qualified as the executor of the estate, and then the executor (which might well be your brother) will have to deed the property over to your brother from the estate.  Your mother's creditors do have the right to have their claims paid, and there is a procedure (which differs slightly, from one state to another) for notifying creditors and setting a time limit for claims.

For advice on how the law will affect your case, your mother's estate, you should talk to a wills and estates lawyer in your area, who can review all of the facts.

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