Normally the name Thomas Kinkaid evokes images of cozy cottages nestled in peaceful rural scenes. But following the artist’s death in 2012, the settlement of his estate was anything but peaceful and cozy. Why? After Kinkaid’s death, his live-in girlfriend produced two handwritten wills, dated from 2011, which contradicted Kinkaid’s previous will and other estate planning documents.

The case went to court in 2012 and was eventually settled at the end of the year, but not before a lot of messy publicity and expensive probate proceedings. The entire situation could have been avoided if Kinkaid had only consulted a lawyer, formally revoked his previous will, and had a new will drawn up. Instead, he left his family and his girlfriend with a tremendous emotional and financial burden and made it necessary for the court to sort out the conflict.

Handwritten, or holographic, wills are legal in several states, including Tennessee. However, that does not make them a good idea. There is a lot of room for doubt about the authenticity of a handwritten will, and without proper legal guidance, it is also easy for an individual to accidentally make mistakes. For instance, in Kinkaid’s case, his handwritten wills contradicted both a previous will and a trust, and it was impossible to know based on the brief handwritten wills exactly how he really wished his affairs to be settled.

A Last Will and Testament should be tailored to match an individual’s particular needs and circumstances, no matter the size of that person’s assets or what other estate planning documents he or she has in place. If you have not yet written your will, it is best to seek help from an attorney to make sure the document is crafted to represent your specific wishes. And if you plan to change your will or create new estate planning documents, such as a Power of Attorney or a Living Will, it is doubly important to make sure you receive proper legal guidance so that all your documents complement rather than contradict one another. Don’t risk leaving your family in a bind – seek estate planning the help you need.