How to Direct Another to Sign Your Will | Wills of the Rich and Famous

Attorney Thomas B. Burton discusses "How to Direct Another to Sign Your Will" for you in the first edition in our new series, Wills of the Rich and Famous. In this series, we will be using illustrations from the Wills of rich and famous people to illustrate important estate planning lessons. In today's video we examine Jackie Gleason's Will and discuss how he directed another person to sign a Codicil to his Will when he wanted to increase a bequest in the Will to his longtime secretary when he was no longer physically able to sign himself. Make sure you subscribe so you don't miss any future episodes when they are released.


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Welcome back, I am Attorney Thomas Burton and today we're going to debut a New Series here on the channel called 'Wills of the Rich and Famous' with excerpts taken from this book, that I found on Amazon and what we're going to do is use the Wills of the Rich of the Famous, to illustrate and learn estate planning principles.


So today's passage I was reading about is the famous comedian Jackie Gleason. He was born 1916 in Brooklyn, New York and died June 24, 1987 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Now the book goes through a few details about each person's estate plan and I'm not going to read you the entire passage but here's a few excerpts of note about Jackie Gleason. It says, "At the time of his death, at the age of 71, Gleason was survived by his third wife Marilyn and two daughters, Geraldine and Linda, from his first marriage. His 35-year first marriage had ended in divorce in 1971, when he married Beverly McKittrick, a former secretary. That marriage lasted until 1974, when he was divorced from Ms. McKittrick and subsequently married Marilyn Taylor Horwitz." Most interesting and this is why this will caught my eye today to talk to you about as part of our series is most interesting about Jackie Gleason's will is not the will itself but the Codicil dated June 23rd, 1987. Now a Codicil is what we call an amendment to will. It's a separate document you execute that adds, deletes or modifies something in the original will without completing a complete new will.


"The Codicil dated June 23, 1987, Gleason increased the bequest to my long-time secretary Sydell Spear from $25,000 to $100,000. However, due to his debilitating illness, Gleason was not able to sign his own name on the Codicil. He directed another to sign his name for him in the presence of two witnesses. The balance of Gleason's estate was divided among Gleason's wife and two daughters".


But what I wanted to illustrate today, what stood out to me is the fact that he was unable to sign his own name on the Codicil. So he directed another to sign for him in the presence of two witnesses. Now he died in Florida, so this was and the will was admitted and signed in Florida, so this was under Florida law but what stood out to me is that in Wisconsin, we also have a provision in the statutes where if someone's unable to sign their signature, they can direct someone to sign for them. That's found here in 853.03 - Execution of Wills which says, "Every will in order to be validly executed, must be in writing and executed with all of the following formalities –

1. it must be signed by the testator, the testator is the person making the will, by the testator with the assistance of another person with the testator's consent or in the tester's name by another person at the testator’s direction and in the testator conscious presence."

So you have three options:

One - sign it yourself and this is what I recommend in all situations, if you're physically able. Two - sign it by yourself with the assistance of another person with your consent. So if you have trouble signing, you could have, you could direct someone, 'please help me sign with my hand' or Three - another person signs it in your name at the testator's direction and in the testator's conscious presence.


So conscious presence means they need to be there with you and you would direct them, a person, third party sign the will for me at my express direction. So if you're going to do that, again, I don't normally recommend doing this unless you have a physical situation where you can't physically do it yourself but then, if you're working with your lawyer, I would work with them to just make sure, it's established clearly that you're meeting all those elements of directing someone else to sign for you, in your conscious presence. Again, to be valid, it must be signed by at least two witnesses, who signed within a reasonable time, after any of the following:

1 - the signing of the will as provided under Sub 1, in the conscious presence of the witness, 2 - The testator's implicit or explicit acknowledgement of the testator's signature on the will, in the conscious presence of the witness or 3 - the testator's implicit or explicit acknowledgement of the will, in the conscious presence of the witness.


So again, depending how you sign it, my preference would be having the witnesses right there to watch this all go on but there is a provision that if the witnesses weren't there, later the testator could acknowledge which method they used in front of those witnesses.


So again, I prefer to do it all together at the same time. It gets little more confusing when you go into some of those other options but today's takeaway is it is possible to direct someone else to sign for you, at your express direction, under the laws of the State of Wisconsin and that's Wisconsin Statute 853.03, it must be signed in the testator's name by another person at the testator direction and in the testator conscious presence, if you're going to use that method and it sounds like that's what Jackie Gleason did with his Codisol in the State of Florida.


So thanks for tuning in to this episode of Wills of the Rich and Famous. As I peruse the book and find more illustrative examples, we'll continue on with this series.


So thanks for watching and we'll see you next time.


© 2021 Burton Law LLC. All Rights Reserved. Transcript and captions provided for ease of access for the hearing impaired. For questions about this topic, or to suggest a topic for a future blog post, please contact the office.


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