The world lost an incomparable musical talent when Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, passed away in 2018. The late singer’s estate has since become the center of attention due to the absence of a formal will. After a two-day trial in Michigan, a jury found the most recent holographic will, despite being found in a three-ring binder in her couch cushions, was valid. This article provides an overview of holographic wills, especially as they relate to Nebraska law.

Understanding Holographic Wills

A holographic will, also known as a handwritten will, is a document created entirely in the handwriting of the testator (the person making the will). It is signed and dated by the testator. Unlike formal wills drafted with the assistance of attorneys, holographic wills are usually prepared in the absence of legal counsel.

Nebraska’s Approach to Holographic Wills

Like Michigan, Nebraska is one of the states that recognize holographic wills under certain circumstances. According to Nebraska Revised Statute § 30-2328, a holographic will may be admitted to probate if the signature and material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator. Additionally, unlike some states, in Nebraska there is no requirement for witnesses to validate the will, making it an exception to the usual formalities associated with wills.

Challenges and Interpretations

The absence of a formal will has led to numerous challenges in the administration of Aretha Franklin’s estate, particularly regarding the authenticity and interpretation of a purported holographic will. In cases where a holographic will is contested, courts may face difficulties in discerning the true intentions of the testator due to the lack of witnesses or legal guidance. The court or the jury may be left to interpret the will in a manner that may or may not fit with the testator’s actual intent.

Burden of Proof

Nebraska law places the burden of proof on those seeking to establish the validity of a holographic will. If the will’s legitimacy is disputed, proponents must provide convincing evidence that the document was indeed handwritten by the testator and contains the testator’s true intentions.


The estate mess of Aretha Franklin serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of proper estate planning, especially when it comes to holographic wills. Nebraska’s approach to recognizing holographic wills provides individuals with the opportunity to express their last wishes in their own handwriting without the need for formal witnesses. However, the complexities that can arise from such wills underscore the necessity of seeking professional legal guidance to ensure clarity, avoid disputes, and protect one’s legacy.

We recommend getting legal assistance from an attorney that spends a majority of his or her time practicing estate planning law. It is also important that you share information about your estate plan with us. That way we can help you and your estate planning attorney get proper titling and beneficiary designations in place so that your assets pass to your beneficiaries in a manner consistent with your estate plan.