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The Dean Law Firm Blog

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Larger Than Life Will and Probate Myths from the Silver Screen

The death of a family member, a secret will, a disinherited beneficiary, unknown lovers or children, and courtroom contests are often used as plot devices for movies and soap operas. While scandalous Wills and dramatic probates are fun to watch, certain Will myths tend to be recycled by Hollywood, leaving people confused about what actually happens when a Will is probated. Many clients have asked me if certain Hollywood tropes about Wills and probate apply to their own case. I’d like to separate fiction and reality once and for all for these myths.

1. Myth: A Reading of the Will is Required

Grieving family members flock around the deceased person’s attorney after the funeral to hear the Will read out loud and find out who received the family diamonds. While a common plot device, most states (including Texas) do not require for a formal “reading of the Will” after a person’s death. The beneficiaries of a Will receive notice of the probate, and their share of the estate, through notices required in the Texas Estates Code.

2. Myth: Video Wills are Valid

Similar to a reading of the Will, a digital recording of a person stating their wishes, or stating their wishes upon their deathbed in front of witnesses, is not valid in Texas. While some states do allow for digital recordings or an oral statement to be used as a Will, Texas has strict requirements for a Will to be valid, and the Will must be in writing.

3. Myth: Deathbed Wills are Hard to Challenge

A Will presented by the family patriarch’s much younger girlfriend, leaving her the family fortune and signed under dubious circumstances may make a good soap opera plot, but such Wills rarely go without scrutiny in a probate. To probate a Will, the Testator (person signing the Will) must have legal capacity to execute a Will and understand its disposition. In addition, deathbed Wills can be easily challenged by other heirs who believe that the Will is not valid.

While Perry Mason, Elle Woods, or Annalise Keating are entertaining lawyers to watch on your screen, you should speak with an estate planning and probate attorney if you have any questions about creating or probating a Will.

Julia “Jules” Pullin is an attorney at The Dean Law Firm, PLLC, a boutique law firm practicing in estate planning, probate, guardianships, and elder law. Julia Dean, the managing attorney, has been recognized as a Top Attorney and Leading Advisor by Acquisition International, Forbes, Newsweek, H Texas, Houstonia, and the Sugar Land Sun, and has earned Martindale-Hubbell’s Client Distinction Award. The Dean Law Firm, PLLC, has been named “Reader’s Choice for Attorneys in Fort Bend County by Living Magazine, “Texas’ Most Outstanding Estate Planning Boutique” by Acquisition International and is “Best Law Firm of the Year” by Lawyer International Legal 100.

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