|Dear Mr. Premack: My
84-year-old mother lives in Northeast Texas and wants to do a will. I am
the only child she trusts to help her. I was wondering if I purchased
software and prepared her will as she wishes and send it to her to be
notarized and signed, would it be legal? – CEN
Your letter raises a
number of issues. First, is it legal for you to prepare a Will for your
mother? Second, if you do so, is that Will itself going to be a valid
legal document? Third, is a Will the most effective and efficient tool for
your mother to use?
Your mother definitely has the legal right to prepare her own Will.
You are concerned that as an 84-year-old, she does not have the
technical and perhaps the organizational ability to do so. As a caring
child, you want to help in any way that you can.
So, can you prepare the Will for her, even using software? The legal
answer is "no." A person can do his/her own legal work; your mother can
prepare her own Will. But to do legal work for someone else is illegal
unauthorized practice of law.
You could hurt the situation if, even with the best of intentions,
you prepare her Will. You asked if a Will you send to her to be
notarized and signed would be legal. It would not. To be legal, a typed
Will must also be witnessed by two independent individuals. The software
is often very generic, sometimes missing the fine points of Texas law.
You say that you are the only child she trusts to help, implying she has
other children she may not trust entirely. If you prepare her Will, they
may have grounds to contest it when she dies – claiming you unduly
influenced her, or the Will expresses your wishes instead of hers.
Finally, is a Will the most effective and efficient tool for your
mother? Maybe a trust would solve more problems for her. Maybe she can
use survivorship or a life estate arrangement to cut costs. It takes a
licensed attorney (experienced in estate planning or elder law) to look
over her individual situation, break down her options, and determine
what approach is most effective and efficient.
Dear Mr. Premack: My father died twelve years ago. He had a Will
leaving everything to my mother. Now she wants to sell the house and was
asked about probate of his Will. We thought probate was not needed when
the first spouse died. Why are they asking about his Will? – CV
In Texas, a married couple who buy and pay for a house together own
it as community property. Each owns half. The typical deed lists both
their names but does not have any terms determining what happens when
either spouse dies.
When one does die, that half passes to whoever was selected by that
spouse. Your father could have left his half to you, your mother, his
brother or to anyone. Only the legal documentation tells us the story,
and we only know what the documents say when they become public.
If he had a Will, probate is the way the Will becomes public (but a
Will can only be offered for probate within four years of death unless
unusual circumstances exist). If he and she had a Community Property
Survivorship Agreement, the signed Agreement would already be public
because it is recorded with the county clerk. If he left no legal
documents, state law on intestacy identifies his heirs; the public can
then be informed in a variety of ways, including an affidavit of