Like oral contracts, verbal wills may not be worth the paper they are written on. Having a written will is important to assure that major assets, like the house, go to intended heirs.
In Michigan and elsewhere, a written and properly-executed will is required for passing personal property to specific people. This helps prevent people from fraudulently claiming that they are entitled to inheritance from the deceased person.
For example, a person telling another person that they will receive their house and another part of their estate does not make a valid bequest. This promise is invalid even if it was made in front of other witnesses.
This verbal promise is not sufficient evidence of an intent to pass on this property. A person's verbal intent is often different than what they placed in their will or other estate documents.
There may be exceptions or circumstances where a family member or other person receives an interest in the estate even though this is not mentioned in the will. If the person paid for the deceased's care or other expenses when that person was ill, they may be entitled to repayment for some of those expenses under certain circumstances. Other family members may also be willing to share some of their inheritance to that person in return of their earlier assistance or generosity.
However, this repayment is not automatic. The general rule, moreover, is that any gift should be in writing and comply with Michigan's laws on wills.
A verbal promise that a portion of an estate will go to a person if another person dies is also insufficient. Wills usually provide that property will go to the heir's children if the heir dies before the testator.
Poorly drafted documents and invalid verbal promises can lead to family disputes, inequities and confusion even where relatives are willing to compromise. An attorney can draft legally-valid wills and other estate documents that expedites inheritance and probate and helps avoid a will contest or other legal battles.
Source: The Washington Post, "Despite verbal promise, a written will must be in place to inherit share of home," By IIcye Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin, March 26, 2018