A History Of Growing Trust In Kentucky

How having no will (or a do-it-yourself one) can backfire

On Behalf of | May 2, 2023 | Estate planning

Many people who would rather not do estate planning put it off until it’s too late. Others try to save time and money by writing their own will, either using an online do-it-yourself service or writing one out using pen and paper. These options can be cheaper in the short term compared to hiring an estate planning lawyer in Louisville. But after you pass away, chances are your loved ones will wish you had invested a little more in your estate plan.

That’s because dying without a valid will in place can cause massive, costly delays in probate. And not every document called a “will” is accepted by Kentucky probate judges.


When someone passes away without a will, the law calls it dying intestate. That means Kentucky’s intestacy laws decide who will inherit the estate’s asset. Depending on who survived the deceased, the process of determining the heirs can be complicated and take years to resolve, as it did after the legendary musician Prince died in 2016. No will was ever found. Partly because he was not survived by a spouse or children, it took years before the court divided his $150 million estate among his half-siblings. Whether that was what Prince wanted to happen to his fortune may never be known.

Whether you are worth $150 million or not, dying intestate could cause your assets to go to someone you don’t want receiving them or leave an intended heir out in the cold.

What makes a will ‘holographic’

Kentucky has specific requirements to make a will legally valid. A will that does not follow those rules is called a “holographic will.” Probate courts generally cannot accept a holographic will. Most people don’t know the details of Kentucky probate law, so the will they wrote in longhand is unlikely to be admitted after they pass away. Then intestacy law takes over.

Something like this happened to another music legend. After Aretha Franklin passed, several (somewhat messy) handwritten documents were found in her home that referred to how she wanted her assets distributed. Another more official document referred to itself as a will and appeared to have been prepared by a lawyer but was also marked as a draft, and Franklin never signed it. None of these were completely valid wills, and they contradicted each other several times, leading to a great deal of confusion.

The limitations of do-it-yourself

Reputable online services generally result in a valid will. But each state has its own rules for estate planning and probate. An out-of-state company is unlikely to adjust to how things work in Kentucky. Your plan probably won’t take full advantage of what is available to you or help you minimize exposure to estate taxes and other costs.