Many think of wills as highly refined legal documents filled with legal jargon and even printed on expensive paper. While there are good reasons to formally draw up a will through an estate planning attorney (not least of which is ensuring that the document is legally sound and enforceable), there are other ways to produce a will that is legal in Mississippi.
What Kinds of Wills are Valid in Mississippi?
Mississippi is more lenient than several other states regarding what it will accept as a legally binding will. Besides documents drawn up by an attorney, Mississippi also accepts two types of nontraditional wills as long as they adhere to specific guidelines.
Handwritten wills. Mississippi does accept handwritten wills as long as they’re written in such a way that it’s clear they’re wills. The will must be entirely written by the person assigning the assets (known as the testator), and it must be signed and dated to be valid. A random list without a date or signature, or a letter to someone specifying their wishes but not formalizing them as in a will, is not valid.
Oral wills. Also known as nuncupative wills, oral wills are accepted under strict guidelines. They can only be made during the time of the final illness of the testator at their home or wherever they lived for ten days prior to death. One exception is if they were sick and died at a hospital or other place without returning home first. The will should have two witnesses who can testify to the will’s validity unless the total amount to be given out is $100 or less, in which case there doesn’t need to be two witnesses.
Oral wills have specific probate requirements too. They can’t be taken to probate court until 14 days after the testator’s death, and the next of kin have received court summons about that which would allow them to contest the will. However, the oral will must be filed with the probate court within six months of its being spoken unless someone puts the oral terms in writing within six days of the testator speaking them.
What Kinds of Wills Are Not Valid in Mississippi?
At the time of this writing, digital wills (also called e-wills) aren’t acceptable in Mississippi. A digital will is just what it sounds like: a form filled out and signed online without ever being printed. Some states accept these, and that day may come in Mississippi too.
Aren’t Wills Just for the Wealthy?
Not at all. Wills are an excellent way to ensure your assets are distributed how you want them to be after you pass. It also helps streamline the process for your heirs. Without a will, the assets could end up in probate court. Depending on the size of the assets and the number of particular heirs, that can be a costly, time-consuming process, especially if family members are not in agreement.
Another critical reason to have a will is if you have minor children. With a will, you can specify whom you want to become their legal guardian if you pass. Guardianship could be left up to the courts if there’s no surviving spouse and you don’t leave a will.
Part of the value of drawing up a will is understanding your own wishes and making sure they’re clear, especially in areas like a guardianship.
Can I Challenge a Will That’s Handwritten?
In general, challenging a will in Mississippi is a complicated process and has several requirements for the challenge to be heard in court, not to mention if it can succeed. The first thing to understand is that being upset about the contents of the will is not grounds for contesting the will. Whether or not someone likes what the testator decided to do with their assets by itself has no grounds in trying to have the will overturned. One of the following conditions must be met for someone to contest a will.
- The will contains errors, fraud, or was created under undue influence. This is a common reason for contesting a will. It either has demonstrable errors, or the testator was under the influence of someone who forced them to distribute their assets in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have.
- The testator lacked mental capacity (also known as “not being in their right mind”). For example, someone with advancing dementia drafts their will or substantially changes an existing will. Because of dementia, they may no longer understand what they’re doing or make changes they wouldn’t previously have agreed with.
- Duplicate will. It’s not uncommon for people to create a will, then change it or redraft a new one later as they change their mind about how their assets should be distributed.
Invalid will. Like many legal forms, wills have specific requirements that must be put in place to make them legally viable. Some of those conditions were stated above.
- Forgery. There are people, often angry family members or unscrupulous caregivers, who will forge a will in order to benefit themselves.
What Steps Should I Take to Set up a Legally Valid Will in Mississippi?
Call us at 601-282-8426 for a free, in-depth, no-obligation case evaluation. Even if you prefer the idea of a handwritten will over a more formal document, we can guide you through the process of ensuring the will is valid and will stand up in probate court if necessary. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable estate planning attorneys understands Mississippi’s laws and requirements, and we can guide you through setting up a will that will reflect your wishes and preferences.