Does a hand-written letter hold priority over a will?

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Does a hand-written letter hold priority over a will?

In my grandfather’s will, which my
petty aunt is executing, he wishes to
leave his house to my sick mother and
aunt, and sell it, splitting the money.
However, in recent times, my
grandfather wrote a letter and stashed
it in the house, stating that as long
as my mother is living there when he
goes, my aunt is not allowed to touch
the house.
When the inevitable happens, I fear my
aunt will disregard the letter and pull
the house from under my mother, kicking
her to the street. My mother remains
ignorant to my aunt’s money-grubbing
pettiness.

Can this written letter hold water
against the will? Is my grandfather
better off mailing the letter to
himself so USPS time stamps it after
the last will revision? How long could
we stay at the house until my aunt
kicks us out?

Asked on March 28, 2017 under Estate Planning, New Jersey

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

My research suggests that in NJ, although a writing was not executed in compliance with state law regarding Wills, it will be is treated as if it had been so executed if it can be demonstrated that the writing establishes by clear and convincing evidence the decedent intended the writing to constitute an addition/alteration of their existing Will. So this letter may stand (or it may not). That having been said, to be sure that your grandfather's wished are carried out, he should just make a new Will. Forms are available online and are inexpensive. This would be a better way to handle this situation. Or you could consult with a probate attorney to get their adise based on specific state law.


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