You’ve probably seen a movie or read a book where the protagonist is in the last minutes or seconds of their life, and they whisper instructions as to who they want their prized collectibles or precious mementos to go to after they’re gone. In novels and movies, this may seem like a perfectly legitimate way to make your testamentary wishes known, but would these last words constitute a valid will in the real world?
Up until 2007 in Texas, the answer would have been yes. But now, not so much… Also known as nuncupative, spoken, or verbal wills – no matter what you call them – oral wills are no longer valid in Texas, regardless of the context.
A short history lesson
The legality of spoken wills in Texas had been a hotly debated topic for many years, with some people supporting their validity and others feeling that they were too easily contested by disgruntled heirs. Probably the biggest concern was that oral wills were difficult to prove in court. Finding witnesses to testify about what the decedent had said, if there were even any present at the time, could be difficult. Others, however, felt spoken wills should be valid so people could make their wishes known if they were unable to write a will because of time or physical constraints (e.g., after being in a life-threatening accident).
But Texas ended the debate in 2007. Oral wills are no longer valid in Texas.
Today, a will must be in writing and signed by the testator (the person who is making the will) in order to be valid. If a will is not in writing, it will not be considered valid, even if the testator made it in front of witnesses. Even better, a will can be considered self-proving in court if it is also signed in front of a notary, the effective of which is a less expensive probate process.
These days, there is no good reason to think that a spoken will is your only option. Estate planning can be easy and cost-effective with the right legal team, and there is no time like the present to get it done.