Separate Writings and Incorporation by Reference (Michigan)

By Matthew A. Quick In some instances, a person who is planning his or her estate is unable to presently decide how property should be distributed through a Will. To address this issue, a written statement or list may be made to dispose of items of tangible personal property not otherwise specifically disposed of by the Will, other than money. MCL 700.2513. To be effective, the writing must be in the person's handwriting who executed the original Will (known as the “Testator” if male or “Testatrix” if female) or signed by the Testator or Testatrix at the end of the document. The document must also describe the items that it distributes with reasonable certainty. This separate writing may be prepared before or after the execution of the Will and may be altered by the Testator or Testatrix after its preparation. As a practical note, if a separate writing is going to be used, it must be indicated in the Will.

Using a separate writing, as described above, is different from incorporating a document by reference, which integrates a separate writing into the Will, thus making the separate document part of the Will. MCL 700.2510. Incorporating a document by reference is utilized when a document is already in existence at the time of creating the Will, rather than referring to a document that may be created at a later time. Unlike the separate writing, money may be disposed of through incorporating a document by reference.