When Aretha Franklin died last August, lawyers said she did not have a will. But in early May, the singer’s family found three handwritten wills in her Detroit home. A hearing is now scheduled in probate court in mid-June.

Dischell Bartle Dooley partner Jack Dooley says handwritten wills are considered valid. A holographic will, as a handwritten will is called, must be in the handwriting of the testator, the person making the will, and must be signed at the end. Evidence that the person writing the will lacked capacity is permitted to be entered as part of a challenge to the will, Dooley said.  

Although Pennsylvania is liberal in providing for heirs in the event of a death without a will, Dooley says a formal will can help avoid challenges while establishing who is in charge of your estate and how your property is to be distributed.

“Developing a will does not have to be a complicated process,” says Dooley. “It is time well spent and can often save your heirs further stress after a family member’s passing.”