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Don't Scribble on your Estate Plan!

No matter how large or small our net worth, whether we own real estate or only have a small bank account, failure to plan for our inevitable passing or incapacity often has severe consequences for our families and friends. And, I have seen many people make good intentioned hand written “corrections” to their existing Estate Plans, not realizing they are invalidating the document, or causing the need to have the scribbled upon document go before a judge.

Among common improper “corrections”: crossing out beneficiaries who have fallen in disfavor, changing the amounts of inheritance by hand or by a separate “letter”, crossing out the names of trustees and substituting new names, and leaving post-it notes all over legal document with new instructions. This does not work. Never write on your legal documents. Don’t leave separate letters, thinking this will work. All changes must be made in a specified way by California law, and that correct way does not include scribbles or post-it notes.

When someone crosses out a name or makes a change by hand, the is no “proof” that the change was legitimate. Even initialing a change doesn’t prove the change was made by the right person. Making changes correctly is easy and important – and it must be done right. The safest method is to simply email or call your lawyer and have a trust amendment prepared for your signature that will notarized. There are formalities to comply with California law, and these cannot be ignored.

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